Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be attending the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit at Google’s Mountain View Campus. It looks to be a great event to discuss the future direction of Linux and Open Source. If you’ll be attending, I’ll see you there. Trying to work out a decent flight schedule now, but it looks like it’ll be challenging. BTW, I’ll also be in the Bay Area next week for OSBC. If you’ll be attending (or in the area) and would like to connect, drop me a line.


Red Hat to build 'Global Desktop'

Quite a bit of news coming out of the Red Hat Summit. I really would have liked to attend this, but somehow the date slipped by me. Hopefully next year. One of the major announcements made was ‘Global Desktop’. From the article:

Red Hat is preparing to release a new ‘Global Desktop’ that over time will grow into an online desktop which integrates online services into a client desktop platform.

The platform will allow users to access online and local data in a unified way.

Red Hat has teamed up with Intel for the platform. Local PC manufacturers will build the actual systems.

The software borrows from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, with about 95 per cent of the code overlapping.

The OLPC uses an adapted version of Red Hat’s Fedora Linux. The Global Desktop won’t share the OLPC’s ‘Sugar’ user interface, but will come bundled with applications such as Firefox and OpenOffice.

The first version of the software is due out in June and will use a traditional user interface.

Subsequent updates will move to a model where traditional applications are integrated with online services, said Red Hat chief technology officer Brian Stevens.

“It will take online services and integrate them richly into a client desktop, and make them first class citizens with the traditional applications,” Stevens said in a keynote at the Red Hat Summit in San Diego.

Integrating online services with local data is required for the next-generation desktop, he argued. Data will be pulled onto the client using service oriented architectures (SOAs).

Note that this has two very specific target markets: Emerging Markets and Enterprise. This doesn’t seem like something meant to be used for mass consumer adoption. At least not yet. While the merging of online and offline seem inevitable long term, the details to getting that system to work for the average person just isn’t quite here. There are just too many times I’m in an airplane or the tube or for this to work today. However, once apps like Firefox can seamlessly give me access to apps while I’m offline and then sync when access is available, this will trickle into the mainstream quickly. By targeting markets for which this technology is good enough now, Red Hat is positioning themselves to pounce when the opportunity is right. It seems to me that a perfect partner here would be Google, but I’ve not seen any official word on that front. The official press release is available here.


Microsoft Urges Review of Google-DoubleClick Deal

It’s amazing how quickly things change sometimes. Microsoft, the consummate anti-trust defendee, is now asking for help from antitrust authorities. From the NYT article:

Microsoft, a veteran defendant of epic antitrust battles in the United States and Europe, is urging regulators to consider scuttling Google’s plan to buy DoubleClick, an online advertising company.

Microsoft contends that the $3.1 billion deal, announced on Friday, would hurt competition in the fast-growing market for advertising on the Web and raises questions about how much personal information would be collected by Google, already a dominant player in online advertising.

Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in an interview yesterday that Google’s purchase of DoubleClick would combine the two largest online advertising distributors and thus “substantially reduce competition in the advertising market on the Web.”

Google dismissed Microsoft’s assertions. “We’ve studied this closely, and their claims, as stated, are not true,” Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, said in an interview last night.

I’d guess many will find this ironic. Microsoft clearly had a different take on “substantially reduced competition” when they were on the other side of the equation. I think this marks a watershed moment for Microsoft. They may have hit the realization that they are unable to effectively compete in a certain market. They’ve thrown money and resources at the situation with little results. The fact that they, of all companies, are so quickly asking for this is indicative of their current situation. It’s even more ironic considering that any deal this big surely would have been throughly reviewed anyway. They’re showing just how weak their position is, with little upside from my point of view. One thing is clear, Microsoft is no longer the bulldozing behemoth they once were. Not by a long shot.


Google offers employees true choice on the desktop

Sure, the fact that “when you start work at Google, you get to choose whether you want a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer” shows how fundamentally Google gets some things. That’s not why I find this article interesting though. There are two very good snippets in the article:

“It strikes me that the fact that this level of choice is so unusual is a fundamental reason why Linux is struggling to make an impact on the desktop.”

There are other factors of course (such as application availability) but the fact is that for many businesses, Windows continues to be the desktop operating system of choice simply because it is currently the desktop operating system of choice.

I don’t think this factor is taken into account often enough. Companies are averse to change, even if that change is good for them. The “no one ever got fired for purchasing $COMPANY” mentality is pervasive in upper level technical management at many companies. We don’t just need to create a better product – we need to overcome hurdles like the one above.

“For many uses Windows may well be the best solution, but its difficult to think of another business asset for which managers would not even consider an alternative when it comes to renewal time.
In this regard businesses are doing themselves a disservice. I am not suggesting that Linux is a better option, but I am once again arguing that businesses owe it to themselves to consider the desktop requirements of their users before making a sweeping decision about desktop requirements.”

This drives home a point that I have thought about before but failed to put so succinctly. Why is it that for most assets, there is a considerable evaluation process and procurement procedure, but when it comes to choosing a platform that will run a considerable part of your operational infrastructure you don’t even think twice about deployment options. A disservice indeed. The question becomes, how do you overcome these obstacles. In many areas, we already are. Desktop Linux is not one of them. Yet.


Novell-Microsoft pact not about interoperability, says Open Source leader

Don Marti recently posted an outstanding interview with Jeremy Allison. One item covered in the article was rumors that some companies have been paying Microsoft for patent licensing to cover their use of Open Source, even previous to the recent Novell deal. From the interview:
LinuxWorld: One of the persistent rumors that’s going around is that certain large IT customers have already been paying Microsoft for patent licensing to cover their use of Linux, Samba and other free software projects. And the Novell deal — isn’t it just taking that and doing the same kind of thing wholesale?
Allison: Yes, that’s true, actually. I mean I have had people come up to me and essentially off the record admit that they had been threatened by Microsoft and had got patent cross license and had essentially taken out a license for Microsoft patents on the free software that they were using, which they then cannot redistribute. I think that would be the restriction. I would have to look quite carefully. So, essentially that’s not allowed. But they’re not telling anyone about it. They’re completely doing it off the record.
The problem with the Novell deal is — Novell gave Microsoft what Microsoft dearly wanted, which is a public admission that they think that Linux violates the Microsoft patent. So, that’s the difference between this and the sort of off-the-record quiet deals. This one is public. This one is Novell admitting, “yes, we think that Linux violates Microsoft patents.” Now, of course, Novell has come out and said, “no, that’s not what we said at all. We don’t think that.” To which, of course, Microsoft publicly humiliated them and said, “oh, yes, that’s really what you were saying.” It’s kind of funny. They couldn’t even wait until the press conference was over to start threatening users with a Linux system.
LinuxWorld: Watching Novell management being subjected to this was like watching a child eating a bug for money. It’s embarrassing.
Allison: It is humiliating. I was horrified to say. It was humiliating. Yes. It really is like, “Go on. Eat a bug. Go on. Go on. Here’s some money. Eat a bug.” Yes, sad but true.

This isn't something I've heard a lot about, but you have to hope it's untrue. If we're talking about public companies, I don't think shareholders would look too kindly on paying potentially large sums of money to Microsoft under the table for highly questionable reasons. We'll have to see if any concrete evidence of this surfaces. If it does, I'd expect a lawsuit.
The interview covers a variety of topics including Jeremy stepping down from Novell, his recent work on CIFS, some patent talk, additional Microsoft coverage and even some talk on burritos. Additionally there is also some really good GPLv3 commentary including some common misconceptions (one of which I had fallen prey to). The interview concludes with:
Allison: No problem. I’m looking forward to seeing you in New York.
Of course, he's talking about the LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit where I'll be in the “Ask the Experts” segment along with Jeremy Allison and a host of other great people including Donald Becker and Evan Prodromou. If you'll be near NYC on Feb 14-15 make sure to stop in. I'm looking forward to the Summit and it's really an honor to have my name associated with each and every person on the “Ask the Experts” panel. See you all in a couple days.

On OpenID

OpenID is getting a lot of attention this week. At LQ, we're obviously supporters of Open Standards and Open Source, but this is something slightly different. We're also believer that you own your identity and attention data. We've supported FOAF for a long time and do what we can to make sure your data is yours. While it's not without problems that need to be addressed, I'm happy to announce that soon, we'll also be supporting OpenID. It will be interesting to see how OpenID progresses. Your “login” is something that is very important to the big vendors (think Google and Yahoo! here). Once you've signed up for a login, it makes their barrier to entry to get you to try an additional one of their products or projects that much easier. After all, all you have to do is login to your existing account. Once you use 3-4+ services, it's quite hard to leave. You're what they call sticky at that point, and that's what every vendor wants. Of course, it's also easier for companies to maintain. We learned that the hard way at LQ. For example, for a while each site we launched had a different authentication system. It was really hard to get people to use LQ Bookmarks when you had to sign up for a distinct account. After we rolled it into the main infrastructure and allowed you to use your existing LQ login procedure, usage increased by leaps and bounds. At this point, the only LQ site that still has a distinct login is the LQ Wiki. That's by design though as we want the barrier to entry there to be a low as possible – it's a wiki after all. In that vein, the LQ Wiki will be the first site to support OpenID. After we're able to get a better feel for the technology and implementation, we'll make further decisions from there. No solid ETA for support at this point, but it should definitely happen this quarter. Stay tuned.

Google and the Issue of Trust

Sparked by a post by Blake Ross, many are starting to question Google. The “tips” issue seems to be the tipping point for many. To be honest, that issue doesn't bother me much. For me, it came when they deprecated the SOAP API. In my mind, that marked the first time Google made a decision based on something besides technical merit. If they had dropped the SOAP API for something like a REST API, I'd have thought much differently about the situation. The replacement, however, was the AJAX Search API which is in no way comparable. The SOAP API allowed you to do whatever you needed to do with the data. The AJAX Search API doesn't allow you to do anything with the data except show it verbatim, and it has ads. The deprecation was especially poignant for LQ, since we used it as an alternative search method to supplement our normal search functionality (which uses FULLTEXT). We'll either need to drop the alternative search, or move it to something like the Yahoo! REST API. 2007 may prove to be an interesting year for Google. They remain technically superior, but they may find they're not able to do some of the things they do (giving no idea of what the revenue share on AdSense is comes to mind, but so do other things) once they are no longer the darling. Being able to ignore the Street and move in whatever direction they wanted has been a core strength of Google in my mind. That ability may be coming to an end though. Kudos to Matt Cutts (a Google employee) for speaking on the issue openly and transparently. That's what's needed right now. Goggle has been very good at responding to criticism in the past. Hopefully that trend will continue.

Google testing Sun's OpenSolaris

It looks like Google may be experimenting with OpenSolaris, according to a couple sources. From the article:
Google runs a stripped-down version of Red Hat Linux specially modified by its engineers. But another source, a Solaris systems administrator who recently interviewed for a job at Google, said he was told the company plans to create and test its own modified version of OpenSolaris.
“I am 100% certain that there are literally dozens of people horsing around with OpenSolaris inside Google,” said Stephen Arnold, a technology consultant and author of The Google Legacy. Moving to OpenSolaris, he said, would be a natural move for Google, with its large number of former Sun employees and its never-ending drive to push the performance of its data centers to the hilt. But Arnold said he doubts that Google, which finished rolling out its highly-secret data centers in 2004, is deploying OpenSolaris widely yet. “Will it quickly replace Linux anytime soon? No,” he said.

Now it's clear that Linux is fairly entrenched at Google and literally dozens of people at Google are always “horsing around” with all kinds of projects that will never come to fruition. That being said, what would the implications of Google dumping Linux for OpenSolaris be for the Linux community? I think the loss would be two fold. First, Google engineers put a lot of time and work into various aspects of Linux that end up moving upstream. Losing that would be bad, but in the end other companies would likely take up most of the slack. The other element is the hit to the reputation Linux has. “If it's good enough for Google..” is something you'll here quite a bit at Linux shops. While it wouldn't be a ding Linux couldn't recover from and it wouldn't actually impact the quality of Linux in any way, perception means a lot; especially in the corporate world. “Why did they make the migration” would be the subject of a massive amount of scrutiny, and rightfully so. Google is seen as a technically savvy company with talented engineers that really know their stuff. For them to move would be a huge seal of approval for OpenSolaris and something I think Sun would absolutely love to see happen. All in all, this is just another rumor at the moment, but it's definitely one the Linux world will be keeping a close eye on.
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Eric Schmidt Joins Apple's Board of Directors

Apple has recently announced that Google CEO Eric Schmidt will be joining the Apple board of directors. People seem to think this will mean more support for Mac OS X in Google products, but it hasn't exactly worked out that way for Oracle or Intuit (Larry Ellison and Bill Campbell have also been on the Apple board in the past). I've always found it ironic that Safari defaults to using Google for search, yet many Google apps either don't run at all or run degraded in Safari. I'd guess this is more an Apple response to the Microsoft Zune. Whatever the reasons, it's clear that there is definite potential for some partnerships that benefit both companies here. Google searches for music giving the iTunes store as an option, being able to purchase videos from Google Video in iTunes, etc. Both companies are very heavy into digital media, without a lot of overlap. Should be interesting to see where this leads 18 months or so out (and if you're a regular reader of my blog, it's sure starting to look like 18-24 months out is going to be an interesting time, at least from a tech standpoint).
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Google Apps for Your Domain

Today Google released Google Apps for Your Domain. From the release page:
Now you can offer private-labeled email, IM and calendar tools to all of your users for free*, so they can share ideas and get things done more effectively. You can design and publish your organization's website, too. It's all hosted by Google, so there's no hardware or software for you to install or maintain.
Basically, it's Gmail+Google Talk+Google Calendar+Google Pages hosted at Google, using your own domain. Why most articles I see are calling it an “Office Suite”, when it lacks a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation program is beyond me. It seems people really want to see Google vs. Microsoft, to the point that they'll pretty much make it up if they have to. The program is ad supported now, but in the future you'll be able to pay to remove the ads. Having just made it clear I don't consider this an office suite in any way, it would not at all surprise me to see Google roll their online word processor and spreadsheet into this in the future. In fact, I'd be surprised if they didn't. I'd guess they're just waiting until the two are a little more polished. Even then though, this won't be a direct Microsoft Office replacement. It serves a much different audience and comes with much different advantages. The real power in this will be in the collaboration. It's a real pain for small offices to share extremely simple spreadsheets. That's where a product like this could excel (ok, that one was bad…I'll admit). Before this could even be in any way potentially considered an “Office-killer”, Google would have to offer a version you could host yourself, and that's not something I've seen any indication of yet. This is something that I think is going to take a while to play out. The world isn't quite ready for a mainstream online office suite yet, and the product aren't quite where they need to be. Given some time and additional technology though, this could be a space that is extremely compelling in the next 18 months or so. Being able to collaboratively edit a document from anywhere in the world, from any OS (including your mobile phone) is one of those paradigm changing events that will cause major disruption. When a company can put that technology behind their firewall and allow access via VPN…that's when we'll see enterprise adoption. My guess is that it will be Google and/or IBM that realizes this goal first.
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