Alex Hudson

Thoughts on Technology, Product, & Strategy

Month: January 2009

Maintaining bits in Fedora…

Over the past couple of days I got added to the packagers group in FAS and uploaded my first approved RPM – it has been a very interesting process, particularly going through the various policy pages on the wiki (which, while informative, are pretty badly laid out in my opinion – but that’s something I can help fix). Trying cvs again for the first time in years has been an odd experience.

I’ve already managed to make my first mistake – not incorporating changelog information into the commit message, which of course I realised just after I did it – but I’m taking things relatively slowly because I know there’s going to be plenty of stuff to learn still.

I have a couple of other packages which are waiting to be submitted; my rules on this are going to be pretty simple to begin with: I’m only going to submit stuff that I at least use, but mostly stuff that I develop or develop against. So, the first packages of log4c and iniparser are unlikely to set the world alight, but I feel I can do a better job as a packager that way to start with.

What is great is how friendly and helpful Fedora is as a community. nirik has been very helpful as a sponsor, and the whole process of trying to contribute to Fedora is really easy – a lot easier than I expected. I think some other projects could learn a lot from this.

Daily Hatemail spills Stig beans

The awful News of the World managed to shut up about it, although they did give it away to anyone with half an eye, but the Daily Mail can’t – they’ve felt it necessary to spoil the worst-kept secret in TV and name Ben Collins as “The Stig”.

Personally, I hope they keep Collins. I don’t think anyone actually cares who the Stig is; except newspapers it seems.

Qt and the LGPL

Someone asked me my opinion on the licensing of Qt a couple of days ago; not that my opinion is worth that much but this is a relatively interesting change. On the face of it, moving to LGPL isn’t a major difference – obviously, it enables proprietary software to use the library without paying a commercial license, but the market for third-party applications on GNU/Linux is pretty slim. The relaxing/opening of the development process is much more important, assuming that it actually happens, although I imagine that won’t sink in for a little while yet either.

What this does remind me of, though, is a blog post from the middle of last year. It took me a little while to find it again, but I think it’s worth quoting a little bit of it. The subject of the post is “Flames Welcome (Is a Qt GNOME desirable?)“:

“Is this going to happen?

“First off this is a highly unlikely scenario. The planets would have to align, Qt would have to go LGPL, Nokia would have to loosen controls on contributions to avoid a fork, the Qt team would have to accept a community which has slightly different goals and the GTK+ team would have to signal their willingness to move.”

So, what I think is interesting here is that this alignment of the planets seems to have half-happened: Qt has changed its license, and supposedly it will be easier to contribute. While the original idea had some roadblocks in the way, it does seem now that there is nothing preventing this scenario.

The rest of the blog post is well worth reading: it outlines some of the many advantages in moving to Qt. The main thing, for me, is that Qt is a relatively complete toolkit with a reasonable design – it’s not perfect by any means, but a lot of what people want Gtk+ to do is already being done in Qt today. I suspect the effort needed to catch Qt up to Gtk+ in those areas it isn’t as hot would be comparable or less than getting to Gtk+ 3. And while the ISVs currently using Gtk+ would be expected to switch, Gtk+ seems to be an API break anyway.

Of course there are plenty of downsides – it would be a huge effort for not much immediate gain. However, I don’t think the decision would be usefully made on looking for immediate gain – it would need to be a longer term play in any event. Which leads me on to my second point:

In these days, it does seem very bizarre that application designers are so thoroughly tied to widget toolkit. Clearly, when you need to write custom widgets then you’re locked in, but it’s a bit odd that many apps create their UI from code rather than from some kind of designed file. Perhaps the switch shouldn’t be to a new toolkit, but a more standard way of describing UI. Qt Designer has a format, MonoDevelop/stetic has a format, there’s libglade or whatever, etc. etc. What would be really useful would be a better, more standard, system for writing the simpler apps which don’t require much in the way of custom widgets and things: maybe as well as being able to choose between Gtk+ and Qt at runtime, you can maybe also choose between Flash, or AJAX/HTML – or some other future toolkit which doesn’t yet exist…

News of the Screws cack-handed “the Stig revealed!”

The news of the world “newspaper” did a “reveal” of Top Gear’s “The Stig” character – so many quotes, but Stig is just a name, they didn’t actually reveal who it was, and I’m not sure they’re really a newspaper 😉

At least. They say that they didn’t reveal who it was, but if you go to the story you’ll see they have a picture of “the Stig” showing just his eyes – apparently giving a clue to the readers. If you don’t want to know who they think the Stig is, don’t click “More”.

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GPL’s failure to compensate

The WordPress blogs were recently alive with discussion about whether or not having pay-for themes, plugins, etc., was a good (or even legal) thing. Jeff Chandler recently pointed to a post entitled What’s the point of community? which I think goes back to the discussion I had with Tarus Balog of OpenNMS fame a while ago, about social norms and market norms. Basically, one of the points from Dan Ariely’s excellent book “Predictably Irrational” is that when you mix, or confuse, one set of norms with another you inevitably end up with problems.

What’s also slightly interesting to me, as a long-time FSF supporter, is the continued separation of “open source” and “commercial” in many people’s minds: the whole point of saying “open source” used to be that it was commerce-friendly. If people don’t think it is any more, then it seems like that term is even more lost than I thought it was.

I think first off, when you release something to the community, it’s released. So this notion of “adequate compensation” by availability of other stuff in the community doesn’t really make sense: there is no difference between someone charging for access to something, or not granting access to something, if you’re unwilling to pay. If you reason that people charging diminishes your value, then not releasing or developing in the first place must also do so. Which clearly doesn’t work, logically.

What does strike me, though, is that there is a seemingly strong moral imperative for what business models should and shouldn’t happen in the WordPress community. I have to say, I would much prefer to see people charging small amounts and actually making money from plugins, themes, etc.: if I go into (for example) the plugin browser right now, for many requirements it’s a wasteland of half-finished and ill-conceived ideas. And in many ways, there’s really not much incentive to make them work well to begin with but, even more, to keep them working long-term, or support it. Doing one-to-one deals to support a particular customer may work for more complex plugins, but it won’t work for the vast majority of them, that model simply isn’t workable.

I personally would love to see a community – not necessarily WordPress – where Free Software code is charged for, perhaps not much, but also shared and developed by the community. I would love to see people paid to work on the software, and have a social ethos that being paid is ok. I suspect, though, that it essentially cannot happen: once you move into those market norms, people start counting beans and hey! he has more beans that I do! But it would be an interesting experiment.