Good Listening, Bad Voltage

What do you get when you combine an ardent but realistic Open Source evangelist, a bearded heavy metal community manager, an author/Linux game creator and a raconteur web developer who all have a modicum of podcasting experience? You get Bad Voltage; a new project I’m proud to be a part of. From the Bad Voltage site: Every two weeks Bad Voltage delivers an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting, as well as interviews and reviews. The show is presented by Jono Bacon, Jeremy Garcia, Stuart Langridge, and Bryan Lunduke. We’ve just released the first show and are keen to get any feedback you may have. We’ve been working behind the scenes on this for a little while now and I think this has the potential to be a genuinely great show. Do note that Bad Voltage is in no way related to LinuxQuestions.org, and unlike LQ it will be decidedly NSFW. That said, head over to the Bad Voltage website, take a listen and let us know what you think.

–jeremy

Microsoft: 'We love open source'

A couple comments on this NetworkWorld Article:

Everyone in the Linux world remembers Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s famous comment that Linux is a “cancer” that threatened Microsoft’s intellectual property.

Ballmer is still CEO of Microsoft, but that comment occurred in 2001, a lifetime ago in the technology market. While Microsoft hasn’t formally rescinded its declaration that Linux violates its patents, at least one Microsoft executive admits that the company’s earlier battle stance was a mistake. Microsoft wants the world to understand, whatever its issues with Linux, it no longer has any gripe toward open source.

In 2010 Microsoft is trying hard not to be public enemy No. 1 to open source proponents, in some cases by making key contributions to open source code and in other cases by making Microsoft products interoperable with open source software.

“We love open source,” says Jean Paoli of Microsoft in a recent interview with Network World. “We have worked with open source for a long time now.”

The mistake of equating all open source technology with Linux was “really very early on,” Paoli says. “That was really a long time ago,” he says. “We understand our mistake.”

First, the article is correct: we all do remember the “Linux is a cancer” comments made oh so long ago. Unfortunately for Microsoft though, they have much to atone for. It’s not just the vituperative comments made in 2001, but the continued incursions since: the 235 Linux patent violations, the OOXML debacle, the HTC and TomTom licensing issues – the list goes on and on. Does that mean that Microsoft can’t change its ways? Of course not, but it does mean that many in the Open Source ecosystem are going to be a bit circumspect. I continue to believe that the odds of Microsoft truly changing while Ballmer is still CEO are minuscule, but I could be wrong.

Paoli’s recent work involves a new Microsoft initiative to promote interoperability among the key components of cloud networks. The initiative, described in July at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, is attempting to promote data portability; use of standards-based technologies; ease of migration and deployment across cloud networks; and developer choice.

The initiative isn’t strictly an open source project but it does illustrate Microsoft’s evolving relationship with open technologies.Microsoft seems to be making a concerted effort to befriend portions of the open source community, and the company could benefit in the public relations game from unpopular moves by Oracle, which is ending the OpenSolaris project and suing Google over use of open source Java in Android.

Along with the Cloud initiative the other large initiative mentioned centers around virtualization. It’s no accident that Microsoft tends to look toward Open Source and favor interoperability in markets where they are weak and demonstrably NOT the market leader, while doing all they can to fight interoperability in the markets where their cash cows are. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, and they do have a fiduciary duty to maximize profits, but it is something to keep in mind. Like other large companies such as Oracle, they’ll tend to be opportunistic supporters of Open Source.

But while the Linux driver project seems to be a success, it does not mean the entire “open source community” is ready to call Microsoft friend instead of foe. Open source is an approach to developing technology, and to some extent a philosophy. By its nature, open source cannot be represented by a single voice.

“You need to be careful about the term, ‘open source community,'” Kroah-Hartman says. “That’s a huge group, all of which operate independently and have their own views and goals. All I can represent is my own view as a member of the Linux kernel team and as a developer who creates different Linux distributions.

A good point by Greg KH and something that too often gets lost or misunderstood by the media. there is no single “Open Source Community”, but a large Open Source ecosystem made up of other ecosystems, communities, companies and individuals.

Microsoft is only “dabbling” in open source at this point, argues Matt Asay, chief operating officer of Ubuntu Linux vendor Canonical, in a column for The Register.

“One big bet Microsoft should make is on open source, the tool of the underdog, a label that is coming to fit the Redmond giant,” Asay says.

Microsoft “needs to go deep on Linux,” not by replacing Windows with Linux but by “acquiring Novell’s SUSE Linux business and focusing it completely on mobile,” Asay argue (though perhaps he simply wants Microsoft to take out one of his competitors).

Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that the COO of Canonical is suggesting that Microsoft should acquire Novell?

Microsoft has an opportunity to boost its reputation among open source proponents in part because of public relations mistakes by Oracle, which as noted earlier is ending the OpenSolaris project and suing Google over use of Java.

The unfortunate thing for Oracle is that it has previously embraced Linux by belonging to open source organizations, contributing to the Linux code and supporting Linux in the enterprise, Lyman says. In the case of the Java lawsuit, Oracle appears publicly to be attacking the open source community at large, even though its specific target is Google.

The Oracle moves do make Microsoft look good by comparison, Lyman says.

“This is good for Microsoft, that Oracle is being talked about as a foe of open source software,” he says. “A lot of observers see similar behavior from Oracle that is the stuff that got Microsoft in trouble. Oracle probably could have done a better job of making sure nobody thought they were attacking open source.”

If there ever were a time where Microsoft had the ability to ameliorate its image in the Open Source world, it’s now. I’ve covered the recent Oracle issue here and here, but suffice it to say that Oracle has stepped into a tenuous position in the Open Source world. Whether Microsoft is adroit enough to parlay that into them looking better by comparison remains to be seen.

–jeremy

Google Android outsells Apple iPhone in Q1 of 2010

From the article:

Smartphones based on Google’s Android mobile operating system have outsold Apple’s iPhone in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2010, according to a report by research firm The NPD Group. The data places Android, with 28 percent of the smartphone market, in second place behind RIM’s Blackberry smartphone market share of 36 percent. Apple now sits in third place with 21 percent.

NPD points to a Verizon buy-one-get-one-free promotion for all of its smartphones as a major factor in the first quarter numbers. Verizon saw strong sales for the Motorola Droid and Droid Eris Android phones, as well as the Blackberry Curve, thanks to its promotional offer. Verizon launched a $100 million marketing campaign for the Droid when it hit the market in November 2009, which likely attributed to strong sales in the first quarter as well.

While these numbers do not take into account the Droid Incredible (which looks to be the nicest Android-based handset yet), you should also keep in mind that they don’t account for the many people likely holding out on buying an iPhone now due to the almost certain release of the next iteration which will be available some time this quarter. I think even with the new iPhone, however, we’ll continue to see Android gaining market share… and the reason is fairly simple: If you want an iPhone you can get one made by exactly one vendor, and then use it only on mobile carriers blessed by that one vendor (yes, you can jailbreak your phone, but that’s far outside the technical knowhow of the average user and still doesn’t give you carte blanche in choosing a carrier). With Android, on the other hand, you have an Open mobile OS that any handset manufacturer is welcome to use and any carrier is welcome to support. You can buy an unsubsidized phone right from Google, or choose a subsidized option via the carrier of your choice (and I’m not aware of a major mobile carrier that doesn’t have some kind of Android option at this point). You can even buy myriad Android devices that are not mobile phones, from tablets and set-top boxes to cars and home appliances. As time goes on, it’s very difficult to imagine that this openness and product lineup replete with options will not become an even larger advantage, despite the very polished product that Apple is putting out. I’d like to think Apple has learned the repercussions of being too closed, but it seems they may be doomed to repeat the mistakes they made in the late 80’s.

Does that mean Android will blow past Apple in overall market share? Nope; whether that will happen remains to be seen. How the myriad versions and releases of Android play out over the next 24 months or so is going to have a huge impact on its long term success. I’m already seeing reports of some incompatibility issues and if that passes a certain threshold, many app developers will simply stop making Android apps (or will relegate them to second tier releases) which have a huge negative impact on the Android ecosystem and the mobile carriers willingness to support Android. I think Google understands this, but whether or not they’re able to avoid it is a question only time will answer.

Additional Reading:
* NPD Press Release
* Is Android Really Outselling Apple?
* Android market share over iPhone not as impressive as it looks
* Is Android the new Microsoft for Apple?

–jeremy

New Site Launch: LinuxExchange.org

I’m happy to announce that I just launched a new site: LinuxExchange

LinuxExchange is “StackOverflow for Linux and Open Source” and is built on the StackExchange platform. That means it’s a collaboratively edited question and answer site about Linux and Open Source with a workflow somewhere between the forums of LinuxQuestions.org and the Mediawiki-based LQ Wiki. We’re still in a sort of BETA mode, but the site is live and a few people have already signed up and are asking/answering questions. We considered launching this under the LQ brand but in the end decided that the paradigm of this site was sufficiently different that having an LQ instance would be confusing and possibly counterproductive. That means the only connection between LQ and LE are that I’m the sole founder of both.

As always, feedback is welcome. It’s going to be interesting to see how LinuxExchange progresses and grows. I haven’t launched a new site in a while and am used to things being at LQ-scale, so starting from zero should be a challenge. I’m also looking forward to seeing what lessons we’re able to learn and then apply to LQ.

–jeremy

Novell Gets $2 Billion Takeover Offer From Elliott

From BusinessWeek:

Novell Inc., a seller of network software whose stock has slid 85 percent in the past decade, received an unsolicited takeover bid from shareholder Elliott Associates LP that values the company at about $2 billion.

Novell’s shares jumped as much as 37 percent to $6.51 in extended trading, indicating that investors see the $5.75-a- share bid as too low. Elliott, a money management firm that owns about 8.5 percent of Novell’s shares outstanding, made the cash offer public in a letter today to the company’s board.

So who exactly is Elliott Associates LP and what are their intentions? From a post by Brian Proffitt at IT World:

Today’s news is different. Those past flirtations with Novell from Oracle and Sun were just that–flirtations. The offer from Elliott is real and potentially very dangerous.

The stock market reaction to the offer was predictable: Novell’s stock surged 27 percent right after the news broke, and it should stay strong for a while until the market figures out if this is a Good Thing.

The Linux community hasn’t raised a big fuss, though I suspect they’re still absorbing the news. I know I am, for my part. In particular, I am wondering what will happen to Novell if they accept this unsolicited bid?

A key passage in Elliott’s letter-slash-press release give some clues:

“Novell is a long-established company that we have followed closely for a considerable period of time. Over the past several years, the Company has attempted to diversify away from its legacy division with a series of acquisitions and changes in strategic focus that have largely been unsuccessful. As a result, we believe the Company’s stock has meaningfully underperformed all relevant indices and peers.”

First, let’s make sure that the “underperformed” label stays firmly in our minds. Whether you buy that or not about Novell, that’s the perception Elliott has, and it will drive the entire strategic vision Elliott will have to “fix” Novell if they do acquire the company. Typically when a group of investors comes in with that kind of attitude, they either think the target company is being wasteful (in which case, watch out for sharp cost-cutting measures, like layoffs) or is going in the wrong direction.

It seems Elliott (again, publicly) believes the latter. “Over the past several years, the Company has attempted to diversify away from its legacy division with a series of acquisitions and changes in strategic focus that have largely been unsuccessful,” is very interesting because it’s probably a not-too-subtle hint that Novell’s shift towards Linux has detracted from its “legacy” NetWare business. Where, apparently, Elliott believes there is real value.

Which begs the question, is Elliott crazy or faking us out?

There are some conspiracy theorists that the Elliott hedge funds involved in this purchase request are just a front for Microsoft, Canopy, or [insert antagonist here] in a bid to kill SUSE and the rest of Novell’s Linux product line dead. While this is certainly possible, given that like most private hedge funds, Elliott’s participants are locked up tighter than the script for the series finale of Lost, I am thinking no–Elliott is not going to kill off Novell or its Linux business on behalf of anyone else.

I suspect Elliott may kill Novell based on its own motives.

Why? A few searches on the Internet reveal a pattern for Elliott investments/acquisitions. Founded by Paul Singer, Elliott tends to specialize in distressed companies as investments–or nations. Elliott purchased $31 million in the Congo Republic’s debt a few years back and when the Congo didn’t–or couldn’t–pay, Elliott sued the nation for $100 million in principal, interest, and penalties. In 2008, the suits were settled, after at least $39 million had already been collected.

It’s a pattern of behavior for Elliott: in 1996 Elliott plunked down $11 million for discounted Peruvian debt and sued the country for $58 million. Ultimately, they got the $58 million. This is why Elliott is well-known in financial circles as a vulture fund.

This kind of distressed debt investment is something Elliott likes to do, even in the private sector. The hedge fund had enough invested in WorldCom to served on the beleaguered firm’s creditors’ committee during WorldCom’s bankruptcy. They like to come in and pick up bargains from dying or distressed organizations.

Clearly, these Elliott folks are no pushovers. Nor do I think they are crazy or inept enough to think they can redirect Novell towards a NetWare future, so I think yesterday’s offer letter is a bit of a feint. Elliott does see some sort of value in Novell–but likely not in its present form.

I believe it’s something in Novell’s patent portfolio or intellectual property that Elliott wants. Something like the UNIX rights, for instance. Whatever they want, I don’t believe Novell will survive the vivisection that could occur if the acquisition goes through.

I’d agree that’s it’s extremely unlikely that this is a shadowy conspiracy by the likes of Canopy or Microsoft, especially given the research Brian has done on Elliott. Whether they’re interested in breaking Novell into pieces or simply after Novell’s patent portfolio or intellectual property remains to be seen at this point. Either way I don’t see the acquisition being good for Novell or Open Source though. Which brings the next question. Is another suitor likely to jump in at this point. the Var Guy lists IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Computer Associates as potential options. I’d add Cisco as another potential Dark Horse candidate, but agree that IBM and HP are exceedingly unlikely. The realty is that Novell is going to be difficult to digest from a strategic standpoint. They have at least four divergent businesses and Linux only makes up about 20% of the company’s revenue. That means a private-equity firm taking the company private and restructuring may be the most viable option at this point.

As of this posting, NASDAQ:NOVL is at $6.03 a share (above the $5.75 offer) which means The Street still thinks there’s more to play out in this story. We’ll be watching as it does.

(Updated)
Additional Reading: Andy Updegrove Elliott Associates and Novell: All About a Game of Cat and Mouse

–jeremy

LinuxQuestions.org Mobile OS Stats

While on the topic of mobile Linux, I thought it would be interesting to post the mobile Operating System stats for LQ year-to-date.

Operating Systems
iPhone 54.38%
Android 18.10%
iPod 17.29%
SymbianOS 4.82%
BlackBerry 2.08%
Windows 1.72%

Despite being a late entry into the mobile OS market, Android seems to be putting up some respectable numbers. What impact will this have on the long term viability of some of the other mobile operating systems? My guess is that many will cease to exist long term, including at least one of the ones listed above. Of noticeable absence above (and not even in the top 10 at LQ), is Palm WebOS.

Additional Reading:
LQ Browser and OS stats for 2009

–jeremy

Intel & Nokia Merge Maemo + Moblin to form MeeGo

In case you haven’t heard, Intel and Nokia are merging their respective Mobile Linux initiatives into a project called MeeGo (an unfortunate name, IMHO, but I guess that’s fairly common in the FLOSS world these days) that will be hosted by The Linux Foundation. From CNET:

Intel and Nokia are combining their respective Linux operating environments to power future smartphones and tablets, another step in a technology tie-up launched last year.

The technology merger will fuse Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo software to form a new operating environment dubbed MeeGo, which is expected to power a range of devices, including pocketable mobile computers, Netbooks, tablets, connected TVs, and in-vehicle infotainment systems.

Intel’s Moblin operating system has been offered on Netbooks from Dell, Acer, and Asus and made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show on a future smartphone from LG Electronics. Nokia’s Maemo OS has powered its N900, a high-end smartphone that Nokia refers to as a “mobile computer”–a likely precursor for future MeeGo-based devices from the Finnish telecommunications giant.

The Intel-Nokia collaboration began in earnest in June when the two companies announced the beginning of a “long-term relationship,” focusing on developing new chip architectures, software, and a new class of Intel-based mobile computing devices. This move is part of a major shift for Intel–a giant in PC chips but not a player in cell phones.

The goal for MeeGo is to put more flesh on the bones of last year’s announcement. In short, to combine two disparate, unwieldy operating environments under one roof, said Renee J. James, a senior vice president at Intel. “Across a range of devices we’re looking to build a single Linux platform with a single developer environment and a merged API,” James said in an interview with CNET. An API, or application programming interface, is a way for a program to interact with other software.

Both companies stressed that applications that run on Moblin and Maemo will run on top of MeeGo.

Importantly, MeeGo will support equally ubiquitous ARM-architecture chips, in addition to Intel processors. “It’s going to be cross-platform. That means it supports both Intel and ARM,” James said. ARM processors are offered by Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung, and others, while Intel’s Atom processor powers Moblin-based devices today.

The official Linux Foundation page adds:

MeeGo is fully open software operating system for the next generation of computing devices. Formed by Intel and Nokia and hosted at The Linux Foundation, the MeeGo platform is set to revolutionize computing and be adopted widely by device manufacturers, network operators, software vendors and developers across multiple device types. We welcome participation in the workgroup, and encourage all ecosystem participants to join the Linux Foundation and participate more closely with the MeeGo project.

As usual, RedMonk has a very good Q & A post up. Here are a few salient bits:

Q: So this project is basically a consolidation of two projects that were competing, essentially, in the same space?
A: There was some minimal distance between the projects, actually: maemo, for example, was never aimed at the full fledged netbook market. When Nokia entered that market, remember, they went Windows 7, not maemo.

So there’s more differentiation between their target audiences than is commonly supposed. But to the point, yes: this can be considered market consolidation.

Q: Isn’t that a good thing?
A: It certainly can be. It is not clear, for example, that either project had sufficient oxygen to sustain itself indefinitely. So by joining forces, they have a better opportunity on paper.

Q: Why do you say on paper?
A: Because these are technologies that – apart from their shared kernel heritage – don’t really have all that much in common. The packaging systems are different, the UI frameworks are different, the applications are different, and so on. Meaning that not only is the merger likely to be complicated, both communities are likely to be significantly impacted.

Q: Can you give an example?
A: Consider the packaging format. Moblin, being Fedora based, uses .rpm, while maemo, being derived from Debian uses .deb. According to the FAQ, MeeGo is going to support only .rpm. In practical terms, then, all of the packages available for maemo will have to be repackaged.

Q: So they should have supported both?
A: No, that just makes things more complicated. That’s the approach they’re taking with the UI frameworks, and it’s probably not wise.

Q: How so? What’s the story with the UI frameworks?
A: Without rehashing a lot of unimportant history, let’s just say that there are two popular open source UI frameworks: GTK and Qt. Qt had generally been better thought of, technically, but until 2009 was more restrictively licensed. GTK, being more permissively licensed, was more widespread.

Both Moblin and maemo were, at their inception, GTK based, though Moblin also used Clutter, which we’ll come back to. Nokia, however, acquired in 2008 Trolltech, the vendor behind Qt. They asserted at the time that maemo would continue to be GTK, but a number of people – myself included – were skeptical. And sure enough, maemo subsequently transitioned to that UI toolkit.

Back to Clutter. A very cool OpenGL toolkit built in part by Intel acquisition OpenedHand, Clutter allows for hardware accelerated UIs via OpenGL and integrates well with GTK.

Complicated, no? The net is that there is considerable overlap between the UI technologies, but rather than annoint – or at least pick out of a hat – a winner, MeeGo is following in the footsteps of Linux desktops that preceded it, and intends to support all of the UI options.

Now, while it’s clear that Moblin and Maemo had an uphill battle ahead and long term viability was never guaranteed for either, I don’t know that it’s clear that MeeGo will fare much better. From Nokia’s statements it’s pretty clear they will be sticking with Symbian on all of their smartphones and will be putting MeeGo only on what they call “pocketable devices”. It seems unlikely then that others will attempt to use Meego on smartphones, which steers it clear of competition from Android, the iPhone and other more traditional phone OS’s. In the “pocketable devices” category though they already have competition from some established Linux distributions such as Ubuntu NetBook Remix, and ChromeOS will be ready soon. Add the soon to be released iPad to the mix and the space begins to look cluttered (zing) pretty quickly.

On the technical side, their is some compelling technology in both Maemo and Moblin. I’ve owned multiple Nokia Maemo devices and have really enjoyed them. Moblin boot times are looking extremely impressive. That being said, the two projects have some large technological differences (the RedMonk Q&A covers some of them, but think QT vs. GTK, RPM vs. deb… etc.) that will almost ensure that bits of both communities, which are fairly diminutive to begin with, will be alienated as part of the merge process. Will what remains be enough to fend off the well funded competition from Google, Apple and the others who may enter this up and coming product space? Only time will tell.

Additional Reading:
Thoughts about MeeGo
Ari Jaaksi – MeeGo time!
Official MeeGo site

–jeremy

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