Review

One of the reasons why I love Open Source

One of the facts that made me decide to get an android phone was the availability of KeePass, an open-source encrypted database software that allows to securely keep all critical password and numbers at hand.

Brian Pellin  is the volunteer software developer who singlehandedly compiled and maintains KeePassDroid, the android version of KeePass. Being an industrial designer, and having a long experience in graphic design, I contacted Brian on July 12th 2009 to offer some assistance. He replied within 24 hours and I got back to him with an android-specific launcher icon for KeePassDroid, and a few suggestions for fine-tuning the user interface.

What do you know? Three days later Brian was already publishing an upgrade to the software, featuring the GLP’ed launcher icon and the interface tweaks. Now where else do you find software that implements user feedback so fast? Two thumbs up for Brian Pellin and Open Source!

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android and iPhone vulnerability compared

Kenneth Van Wyk wrote an article for itmanagement.earthweb.com in which he tried to assess the level of vulnerability of Google android and Apple Inc. iPhone OS.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict Google’s Android mobile phone platform is going to prove itself to be more secure than Apple’s iPhone in the long run.

Go to the article.

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Ubuntu in a courier bag

I had been planning on getting a netbook, so when the time came to look for a deal on price comparison sites, I found out that the ultra-portables were distributed in Switzerland as follows: the ones with the lowest specifications ship with a Linux distribution and the most powerful ones always ship with Microsoft Windows.

I was set on getting one and then installing the Debian-based Ubuntu Linux. Unfortunately, for the aforementioned reason, the fine Asus eee 910 (the third generation) was only available with Windows; and I didn’t feel like giving away money to Microsoft especially if I wasn’t going to use their software. After checking feedbacks from users who successfully managed to install Ubuntu on the HP 2133, I decided to get one.

Running with a VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz processor, this computer is actually more of a mini-notebook than a notebook: it features a 1Gb SODIMM RAM and a 120 Gb 5400 rpm SATA Seagate disk. It is built with a sturdy metal shell, an 8.9 inch screen offering true 1024 x 600 pixels and virtual 1280 x 768 pixels. The full keyboard is scaled at 92% and there is a convenient touchpad locking button to allow deactivating the input device while typing. Measuring 25.5 cm x 16.5 cm x 2.7 cm and weighting 1.19 kg, the 2133 is slightly bigger and heavier than most netbooks, but it is still 2/3 smaller than my 15 inch Dell Inspiron 1520.

Switching on the device, I discovered SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, which is unfortunately crippled down and makes installing software a rather tedious (if not impossible) task. I moved on to installing Ubuntu while canceling Suse. Most of the distributions I put on an USB key stalled during boot, and only Ubuntu 8.04 went all the way through. I had to include a command in the boot sequence to set temporary video card drivers. So Ubuntu 8.04 it shall be!

I followed a very-well written tutorial for fine-tuning Ubuntu on the HP 2133. I didn’t get the proper wireless card drivers the first time, so because of a false maneuver I had to start all over again with the right stuff. Before I finally got all of my usual applications installed, more than 3 hours had gone by. But if that is the price to pay for running my netbook with a freely-distributed operating system and free applications, then it is worth it. I have to be careful no to try and upgrade the Ubuntu distribution though, because the operation could disrupt the whole installation and invalidate all this fine-tuning. Within a year, the new Linux distributions will probably handle the specifications of this device.

The battery last for a little bit more than 3 hours and the screen resolution is good enough for checking email, surfing the Net or watching movies. While copied in, my personal font folder was mistakenly accessible by administrator only, which caused a glitch on Mozilla Firefox and Rainlendar. I fixed it so I can now use a hundred additional fonts for art working.

The HP 2133 uses a medium-grade 1.0GHz VIA processor, so it would be unrealistic to expect Youtube videos to be anything less than jaggy. The Opera browser runs very well and it was easy to enable the Adobe Flash plugin. OpenOffice seems to be running without depleting the resources. All in all, I am able to carry with me a familiar desktop with all of my preferred applications and my complete multimedia library.

*****

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Book review: After The Software Wars

I always purchase my books from bargain deals on Amazon.com and schedule them for reading at a monthly rate. I knew about Lulu.com self-publishing service from their first press releases, but I never found a book listing I was eager enough to order. The volume After The Software Wars caught my attention and tempted me to give both the author and publisher a try.

After The Software Wars, by Keith Curtis

After The Software Wars, Keith CurtisA French proverb says that “only imbeciles don’t change their mind”, meaning that only stubborn people aren’t open to questionning their preconceived ideas. Books about the clash between proprietary and open software always have a bias. But when a Microsoft veteran turns into a Linux enthusiast and decides to document his journey, the result is an improbable example of pertinence balanced with open-mindedness.

Without giving it much philosophical thought, Keith Curtis began his career in proprietary software after a talk with Microsoft co-founder and future award recipient Bill Gates. The programmer resigned a decade later out of boredom.

“This book is certainly not meant to be a bitter take on Microsoft’s future although I believe they are toast. I loved working there, learned an enormous amount, made a few shekels, and enjoyed the privilege of working alongside many brilliant minds. Like many things in life, it was fun while it lasted.”

Everything Curtis took for granted was turned upside down once he started exploring the free software philosophy. Writer’s note: The fact that netbooks preinstalled with Linux have appeared and sold out of Walmart shelves is a very bad omen indeed for Microsoft. Writing in a pragmatic and well-documented manner worthy of a programmer, Curtis gives a detailed account of the clash between proprietary and free software, and comments on the position taken by companies like Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft or Sun. He attempts to draw conclusions from the success of collaborative projects such as Apache, Wikipedia, WordPress and GNU/Linux, which kernel is malleable enough to operate a smartphone or any of the servers running 60% of the Internet. Curtis also illustrates how the combination of antiquated languages, inadequate programming tools, proprietary development methods and closed formats are all keeping the economy from enjoying state of the art software. The author postulates that computer science should be collaborative like any other respectable scientific discipline.

The rationale is compelling and flows smoothly through most of the pages. When dissertating about computer science, the author does a remarkable job at balancing facts, figures and quotes from partisans of both sides of the spectrum. The book rests on the programmer’s opinion based on his observations, and he takes the opportunity to makes a plea in favor of openness and collaborative development in two fields he holds dear: politics and space exploration. These latter chapters seem concise in light of the rest of the volume: pages feature a 1962 John F. Kennedy Cold War speech justifying space exploration, sparingly commented quotes and a 9 paragraph-long excerpt from controversial best-selling author Anne Coulter.

Despite two chapters that somehow feel incompatible (pun intended) with the rest of the book, After The Software Wars is an insightful and constructive criticism of computer science, carefully crafted and extensively documented like good software code. Programmer Keith Curtis deconstructs preconceived ideas while providing clues and suggestions for bettering computer science; and it remains to be seen if the author can deliver the same credibility when venturing outside of his field of expertise.

****_

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Book review: Rebel Code (Linux and the Open Source Revolution), by Glyn Moody

This is an excellent book for readers not familiar with the world of Unix, Linux and Open-Source, as it features a Historical account and it lays a good foundation to help understand most of the issues and the concepts of free software, Open Source and collaborative development.

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