Arnt Gulbrandsen
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Open source is succeeding, and rms is unhappy

This summer Dropbox released an image compression thing called Lepton, effectively a better way to encode JPEG (same principles, same pixel results, considerably better execution of various implementation aspects). Dropbox didn't have to do that. But one does nowadays, it's become part of modern programming culture. Using and releasing open source is a best practice, as the buzzword goes.

Around the same time Richard M. Stallman posted a condemnation of companies that both support free software and teach classes in use of nonfree software. Condemnation is the word he chooses, not my choice. No fraternisation with the enemy!

That enemy is us, now. The enemy is those who follow today's conventional best practices. A stealth-mode startup I am talking to has ten projects on github, because the CTO there has decided that whatever good programmers consider good is what shall be done in his realm. Most of the projects are forks, some with PRs for upstream, others described as the code in this fork isn't really suitable for upstream, but take it if you want. Good, polite behaviour, best practice indeed, and very different from the GNU purity that rms requires.

What is left of rms' following if the good programmers are declared to be enemies? The outlook for the GNU project is poor.


It's the attitude, not the wording

Once upon a time, a clever young programmer submitted a middling patch to the linux kernel. Not directly, it went to a subsystem maintainer who merged it with other code of his own and perhaps from other people, put his name on it and sent it to Linus. The young programmer's name was not visible. That was a bit of luck, because there was a bad bug in the code, the kind of bug that causes blaming, finger-pointing and angry email.

Only Linus, that maintainer and I knew that the young programmer was myself, and Linus never said an unkind word and didn't tell anyone who wrote the code either, so noone could email me and tell me their thoughts.

Fast forward twenty years, to when Sarah Sharp decided to stop contributing to the linux kernel. Sarah wrote good code for the kernel. I was sad to hear that she left, sadder about the reasons.

A lot of people blame Linus and his swearing for her leaving. I think that's unfair to Sarah, unfair to Linus, and worst of all, I think that we in the open source community hurt our community when we do that. Even if Linus' swearing hurt Sarah.

Linus has his faults. For example. when someone from Redhat wanted kdbus into the kernel, Linus' response showed good technical judgement, but it was also heated, loud and negative. Certainly not ideal. However, the fair comparison is not against an ideal. Linus' response ought to be compared to a standard professional response, plausibly something like oh, this code is poor, on the other hand that major stakeholder wants it merged. After a few rounds of squabbling and some cleanup the code is accepted.

That would be professional behaviour. That sort of professionalism is how a good, clueful CTO ends up with 22,000 messy lines of PHP despite a clear mandate from the board to prioritise quality. How teams end up selecting MongoDB over PostgreSQL. Possibly that's how Windows NT got graphics drivers in the kernel.

Linus won't tolerate that sort of professionalism, instead he'll swear and scream. Is that worse? I think not. It may or may not be better, but it's not worse. But because Linus behaves that way and attracts criticism for his loud swearing, some of the less notable opensource contributors escape criticism, and some of them are mean and spiteful as well as loud.

Saying fuck isn't that bad. In my opinion it's about as bad as being late for a meeting. A mean attitude is worse, much worse.

Since people focus on Linus' swearing, though, Linus' swearing opens the door to meanness and spite. A minor fault enables a major.


The year of linux on the desktop

Clearly, 2016 is the year of linux on the desktop. I bought a new box and everything just worked. My three screens all work without needing any configuration, the fans are silent normally but spin up if needed, the temperature sensors all deliver reasonable results.

(Well, pulseaudio doesn't work.)


Two headlines on Hacker News

This headline appeared in my Hacker News feed this morning: Why systemd is taking over. I fear it's right, systemd is taking over, and it's not good. I had a terrible time getting linux to work on my new laptop, which is why I have sworn to try Devuan on that laptop as soon as it's installable.

But what is systemd taking over, exactly? The next headline was Chromebooks spank Windows and might have added while traditional linux laptops disappear from view. Half my friends have switched to Mac laptops and last September I couldn't find a single ten-inch laptop with ≥4G RAM and capable of running linux. Not even one.



Custom filofax paper

The two pictures show things I usually bring along in my hand luggage on the plane. Guess which one the security screeners want to look at most often.

Correct! The razor gets a brief glance or no attention at all (usually), the organiser looks odd on their screens and is often inspected. Mine was going to become a 9600bps modem when it grew up, as I have told many a security screener.

Ever since I got my first duplex printer I've made my own paper for it. Nothing very fancy, really. Four constraints only: ⓐ I like to write on the right-hand side, ⓑ occasionally I want to measure something so there should be a ruler, (more…)


The Openlinux Lizard

One evening in November 1998, drinking with some of the trolls at Suetelane Paludo's place, I ranted grievously about how installing linux still sucked. I'd spent the day installing a new server. In typical Trolltech fashion, the discussion quickly turned to what we could do about it. We decided that noone at Red Hat or Debian would talk to us because Trolltech was so very evil, Suse suffered from NIH syndrome, but we could talk to Caldera (ie. the German team Caldera formed by buying LST) and maybe get something done.

I put together a proposal (a single-page email, just text). Ralf Flaxa and Stefan Probst at Caldera immediately accepted it.

What followed was great. (more…)


Linux on the ARM Chromebook: Not quite yet

Installing ubuntu on the Chromebook was really simple, and the result works in principle, but it's not usable. Too many missing packages, some random crashes (while using Unity), and the Chromebook doesn't sleep properly.

KDE (kubuntu-desktop) seems to work better than Unity/Gnome, but not well enough for production use, not even by a twenty-year linux veteran such as myself. I don't want to spend much time hacking on it now, so I'll try again in a few months.


An ARM Chromebook arrived

The thing weighs nothing and feels cheap, but not badly made. I sort of like the way it feels — it's well engineered, but its flimsiness urges me to set up proper backups on day one. My reaction surprises me, but I like the compromise. Hardware does break, it's good to face that.

The SD card I need to install linux still hasn't arrived.