Taking an alternative approach and perspective to handling of gradual migrations
An impulsive and immediate migration to Linux can sometimes lead to disappointment. Ambitious businesses are sometimes led to believe that their data can merely be be dumped from one platform onto another, but the reality is a little more complex than this. In order for a migration to be successful, one needs to be familiar with native Linux applications and the data needs to be stored in a format which is independent from just a single application.
Changing one’s favourite application can be hard. Everyone resists the introduction of new things, especially when they threaten and have direct impact on the force of habit. For a very long time, large and well-established software vendors have capitalized on people’s reluctance to learn new processes such as identification and menu items and familiarity with user interfaces. Some software vendors went further and defended these processes by introducing the notion of ownership, then essentially patenting behavior. Even more software vendors used the idea of obscurity to restrict (or altogether eliminate) people’s ability to change. This is known as lock-in.
Many of these issues can easily be addressed when transparency is embraced. Moreover, sharing of information facilitates more rapid development of knowledge. It speeds up improvement where all peers involved can move forward in harmony, without jeopardising unity and conformity.
“In a world of unified formats, different businesses are able to compete with one another not through restriction or punishment of rival developers and consumers, but rather through innovation, added value, reasonable cost, and a decent level of support.”A single unified format is the key with which various businesses can communicate conveniently. It is also highly essential for the enhancement of the existing formats, which should preferably remain party-neutral, backward compatible, complete, and elegant. In a world of unified formats, different businesses are able to compete with one another not through restriction or punishment of rival developers and consumers, but rather through innovation, added value, reasonable cost, and a decent level of support. To use an example, in the case of documents, one unified format is currently OpenDocument format and for static document, Portable Document Format has become the norm.
The dawn of the GNU/Linux operating system was a time when the software industry had already evolved (or devolved) into a predatory marketplace. This market was fragmented and isolated. Different software vendors strived to capture their costumers using proprietary formats. Corel, for example, was happy enough treating its popular word processor as though it did not need to interoperate seamlessly with rival software. IBM was no exception. In later years, especially in the United States, software vendors added extra protection to their offerings by making not only their application code a property, but also the ideas behind it. Ownership could then be associated even with mathematical notions. That is the effect of software patents. This shields vendors and yields nothing but nervousnous for competitors and customers. Perceived risk and dependency can be worrisome indeed.
To a software startup which wishes to compete or even to a customer, the marketplace appeared like a pseudo-ethical and pseudo-competitive playing field at the stage where monopolies prevailed. In the late 90s, the barrier to entry into the market was associated with the complexity of so-called standards. As far as documents are concerned, standards were chosen not by government bodies; instead, there were virtually no formal standards at all. Existing standards, which were simple, got abandoned or extended unilaterally. De facto standards, which were subjected to unpredictable and sudden changes, became ubiquitous enough to be perceived as the standard. People were no longer able to properly understand the meaning, purpose, and importance of standards, which gradually became more innately closed. These were neither free nor open.
Years passed on and people accumulated data. Inability to access older data, which is related but not identical to digital preservation, opened many people’s eyes. For example, consider the case where a person loses metadata that accompanies photos if moved from one application to another or one file system to another (a common scenario when changing or upgrading an operating system). Suddenly, people’s personal information — including memories with sentimental value — became obsolete and no longer accessible. In some cases, the effort required to regain access to information was just too great to be worth handling. People learned to accept losses, but they also realized that there was a different way — a better way even.
This awakening led to a reform, at least at a mental level. People began bothering to check which formats they can and cannot rely on. Formats were associated with trust and perceived as an important factor. Some people went further and demanded software for which all source code was available.
To enable wider access, various formats such as Portable Document Format (PDF) were formally standardized. Tight control of this these formats was conceded. In turn, new formats were created which also remained independent from applications and companies. One such format is OpenDocument Format (ODF), which is now widely recognized as an international (ISO-approved) standard for documents.
The introduction of a limited set of formats that multiple vendors can work with has resolved notorious and much-loathed (by the customer, not the vendor) issues, most notably lock-in. Backing from international organizations meant that these formats were by no means formalized to benefit one application or one operating system. No company was truly in control of the process. Portability was improved at the application level and the operating system level. People who prefer different platforms — whether an application or the underlying operating system — were able to exchange information at ease and also in a non-lossy fashion. This improved productivity for various reasons.
First among those reasons is personal convenience. There is no one piece of software that suits everyone. There is no mental parity due to level of experience and various backgrounds (including training, education, and skills). Different people think differently and thrive in individual strengths. A programmer, for example, might be able to handle technical complexity, whereas a writer can express himself or herself in a clear and eloquent fashion. Any technical peril you put in a writer’s face might simply become a distraction and obstruction. Contrariwise, simplification enables a writer to be more focused.
The second reason why a unified format solves and addresses many problems is to do with fact that it eliminates the need to transform and translate of data from one format to another. The data is contained in a form which is defined by one Gold Standard. It is a case of abstraction, or separation into layers. Data becomes entirely independent from the application that supports it.
Having identified reasons why no single application suits everyone, one can look at the needs of a business. Businesses must standardize on formats, not software. Formats are verbal and technical specifications, not code. As long as the specifications remain unchanged or evolve in an open, transparent, and carefully-doctored fashion, business information is secure. It preserves its integrity in the long term. The business, moreover, needn’t rely on one particular vendor anymore. It puts the business in charge of its financial destiny and its data in the hands of responsible, supervised, and peer-reviewing industry consortia.
With open standards comes choice. Change becomes easier. Suddenly, barriers that once hindered and hurt one’s mobility are no longer there. An enterprise that planned or endlessly procrastinated a migration to Free software, for instance, suddenly finds that its exit costs — the costs that are associated with escaping lock-in — are lowered significantly. Once lock-in is left behind, no longer need it be coped with ever again. It is a one-time investment in liberation of vital data.
The great attraction of an open standard is related to its ability to open doors to better, less expensive, and better-supported software. It is a strategy shift. Enterprises must realize that their new identity, wherein they are no longer dependent on a single supplier, comes through standards. Blaming the inability of an application to mimic the behavior of another is a classic case where an enterprises adopts the wrong route for its migration. It clings on to the past (legacy) rather than looking into a future where truly open and free standards are increasingly being accepted.
The attraction of open standards is at this point greater than ever. There is a meeting of the minds coming up and there is a crossroad to be reached. Microsoft Office 2007 comes to a larger market and the ISO will vote in favor or against the format that accompanies Office 2007. It is known as Office OpenXML. Its proponents boasts its size and function while opponents protest strongly using the arguments that it is inelegant and too tightly coupled with operating systems and a single application. A major standards group is about to meet and discuss this soon, so perhaps so should you.
There remains a conflict of interests and desire, wherein unified formats are thought to be replaceable by compatibility layers that enable access to data that is stored in proprietary formats. In the case of Linux, some judge its readiness by its ability to simulate non-Linux applications (or sometime virtualise them). This very well exemplifies the misconception about the value of a single standard which is here to stay. Choice of applications, digital preservation, backward compatibility, and sometimes full access to application source code are among the many benefits.
Admittedly, this way of thinking rarely seem to be natural to everyone. It is a paradigm-related and conceptual issue where specifications are confused with code, applications are confused with formats, and standards are taken for granted (or not taken at all). If you foresee your business, or your family, or your friend moving to Linux in years to come, the first step you ought to take is appreciate vendor-independent formats such as OpenDocument. Many companies and even governments are supporting and embracing OpenDocument format. The OpenDocument Alliance, which is an independent body, maintains a partial yet extensive list of its backers. Some are actively promoting OpenDocument while some passively accept or usher its arrival.
The next stage of a migration process should typically involve taking the existing data in a format that is recognised by the same application on different platforms or by different applications that understand (and thus perfectly interpret/parse) the data. This data can then be moved across partitions, across computers, or across operating systems. This is the stage where migrations to Linux can become seamless.
Migrations between platform — whether to Linux, or to any other platform for that matter — should always boil down to the information level, not the application level. Remember that a platform can support multiple applications that achieve the same thing. In turn, each application supports a set of formats, but ideally just one that is universal. Identify that universal format and make the first step towards choice of both an operating system and an application. Your data is your bread and butter. Don not give it away and do not invest in proprietary or
mysterious keys that unlock this data, especially if these keys you can never truly own or control. █
Originally published in Datamation in 2007
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This is the last post in today’s series [1, 2]. It looks at a variety of topics.
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Apart from that coupons story, which is history by now, the only prominent articles appear to be about IBM and SUSE. Here is the first one from Timothy Prickett Morgan:
While Linux has certainly taken off in the high-performance supercomputing labs of academic institutions, commercial enterprises, and government facilities around the world, many of the supercomputers out there are using home-grown Linuxes and are self-supported by fleets of nerds who, in many cases, know as much or more about Linux than the commercial Linux suppliers. That said, this is a cost and both Red Hat and Novell and their server partners want to get more installations among HPC shops.
The HPCC 8 Pack bundle is available starting August 22. IBM did not announce pricing, but it should be considerably less per node than the cost of a basic SLES 10 license, which costs $349 list from Novell for a basic subscription with one year of Web and telephone support. The IBM HPCC 8 Pack has Big Blue offering Level 1 tech support and does not have telephone support, but does include patches for the Linux stack and for security updates as well as online delivery of those patches and any ancillary software.
The second article is about SUSE-powered mainframes in education.
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In this last week of August, much has happened mainly because of Hack Week. Here is a quick rundown.
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Pratinha – Chapada Diamantina
Brazil’s education system has already decided to embrace Debian GNU/Linux with KDE. It will be served to approximately 52 million children and adolescents. A reader of ours from Brazil recently estimated that GNU/Linux is already used by about 8% of the population in Brazil and by watching the following new article, a shift in momentum becomes rather evident.
Universities that do not use Free Software: Time for a boycott?
I received an email recently from a young man in Brazil who wanted me to come to his university and talk to the students and faculty about using Free Software. I am normally happy to advise universities to use Free Software, but usually this is done in conjunction with some large conference held at the university or some other venue. I just do not have the time to visit each and every school. But I did investigate the university of the student and found that Microsoft was indeed a sponsor of the University. In fact, the university had a large banner on the front page of their web site talking about Microsoft as a partner. It was the first time I saw a university advertising a commercial firm on their home page.
I started doing a little more investigation of the student’s city and found that there was another university in the same city that was very active with Free Software. In fact, they had a mirror of Debian software and were actively promoting Free Software.
Ten years ago a boycott might not have been possible. There were too few universities that had access to enough really good Free Software to ask the students to make a “sacrifice” in forsaking a university that only used proprietary software to teach. Now, with the range of Free Software that is available, and with the marketplace crying out for new programmers trained in Free Software development techniques, and with many more good universities using Free Software to teach courses, the university “marketplace” is ready for the boycott.
Microsoft rarely responds to such threats directly. It might anger people, whose freedom is taken away by a fraudulent multi-national, so it operates by proxy instead.
“As for IDC, they twist figures or prepare definitions that are biased by design. They are engineered to deceive.”Ina Fried, a known ‘Microsoft mole’ from CNET, is doing a batch of articles with photos of Brazil’s slums and articles about “Linux” (forget the GNU philosophy of freedom). Fried is therefore encouraging the view that only poor people would ‘settle’ for “Linux” and that it’s all about cost.
Remember that CNET was funded by Microsoft’s co-founder and it’s only a small part of the corporate sponsorship maze in the press.
At the same time, CNET is citing ZDNet (also known as “Ziff/Gates” to some) with the usual bogus numbers from IDC. It’s the servers FUD all over again (a quarterly or bi-annual occurrence). We covered this just a few days ago.
As for IDC, they twist figures or prepare definitions that are biased by design. They are engineered to deceive. We saw it and remarked on this before. in reality, Windows servers are claimed to actually be on the decline. Says one reader in Linux Today:
They go to great lengths to mask some numbers.
Windows market share is down almost 2% from 38.4% to 36.5%.
Another article is suggesting that GNU/Linux is losing because of mainframes. The source? IDC. In a nutshell, IDC continue to sling mud at Linux by biasing, just as Al Gillen did about a year ago (the rebuttal stays the same).
It’s sheer dishonesty, which is typically paid for those with vested interests in lies (or gymnastics in statistics) [1, 2, 3, 4]. It even says “Linux sales”. GNU/Linux need to be sold? Since when? In fact, as time goes by and Free software improves further, it’s easier to deploy without buying anything. They try to make technical arguments (maybe even correct ones) to only highlight statistics of no interest or value.
All in all, Ina Fried and Matt Asay continue to participate in Microsoft’s propaganda against Brazil and Linux, respectively. There’s also intersection between them now, but Asay is probably doing this naively and accidentally. Here is one remark from the comments:
Bravo. Good corporate lackey.
Ina Fried gets a fluff job from the Microsoft head liar in Brazil and she runs with it THREE times and now you jump on it.
The above surely is rude, but it’s true. █
“There’s a lot of Linux out there — much more than Microsoft generally signals publicly — and their customers are using it.”
–Paul DeGroot, a Directions On Microsoft analyst (a fortnight ago)
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In a previous and fairly recent post, the things Microsoft does in Portugal were summarised. This showed a ruthless response to the increasing adoption of Free software in that country. More recently we tried to explain why Microsoft's CEO is coming to Portugal and there was an ongoing discussion about it.
The relevant and corresponding reports are in Portuguese, but readers of this Web site who live in Portugal have helped. Listed below are two articles that may be handy for future reference. Both articles are in Portuguese, but we quote portions of their automated translation to English.
First article (English translation):
Draft Law No. 577 / X – open standards for computing the state
PCP presented in a draft-HR law for the adoption of open standards in systems of the state. For the CFP, public services – and public documents – can not use private formats (owners), coming from large corporations in computing. This project-law enshrines the protection of the freedom of citizens and technological organizations, the independence of the state before the multinationals and compatibility between systems.
Second article (English translation):
CFP presents draft law for the use of free formats in the State
The Portuguese Communist Party, through Mr Bruno Dias, Bernardino Soares, Miguel Tiago, Francisco Lopes, Agostinho Lopes, has submitted a draft law to the compulsory use of formats free and open systems in the state.
The following requirements are used to classify a CFP by an open standard format:
* is adopted and maintained by a nonprofit organization and its development stems from a decision-making process open, both in decision-making and the participation of all stakeholders;
* the specification is available freely, without any restriction on their use, distribution and copy;
* intellectual property rights and patents of the standard must at least be in the majority, publicly available on an irrevocable and irreversible;
* there must be no restrictions on the reuse of the standard.
Our readers from Portugal, who are Free software-savvy, believe that Steve Ballmer is coming to Portugal in order to intercept these policy changes. “Look[s] like that open source law project is going to be applied soon in Portugal,” said one of them just minutes ago, having researched the subject.
We may have seen this type of reaction before in the Philippines and in South Africa. There are other examples like China. Vigilance remains important. █
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…and Paying People to Shut Up About It
Games around credit are painfully familiar to many. As background, consider Novell’s serious financial issues, which may have led the company to selling its soul to Microsoft within months. In a previous post from yesterday, Novell's latest problems were highlighted. The losses continue to widen as the cash cows run thin.
Novell’s history when it comes to fraud is well documented. Consider this old report for example.
After more than seven years in the courts, Novell will spend $13.9 million to make a securities fraud class-action lawsuit go away.
Attention is needed here. Novell’s cronies were not cleared of charges; instead, they bailed out. This does not make the behaviour acceptable. According to yesterday’s article from the Register, “th[e latest] was turned into a loss of $15m for the period because of a debt write-off.”
Did anyone spot that? Yes, debt.
Novell has previously admitted — albeit in private — that it is 'cooking the books'. This indicates that not much has changed since that class-action lawsuit over fraud.
Such things might not be rare, but it does not make them justified, either. Here are a couple of examples.
Former Apple CFO, Fred Anderson, made accusations against Steve Jobs. According to Associated Press, Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray said “It gives the appearance that, ‘I had a partner in crime and it was Steve Jobs.’” Here is an article from The Register.
Apple’s Board of Directors is backing CEO Steve Jobs after former CFO Fred Anderson accused Jobs approving the company’s stock option backdating. Anderson settled civil charges against him Tuesday without admitting any guilt, but agreeing to pay back approximately $3.5m to make up for personal gains in the scandal.
Eventually, they managed to sneak away from justice, assuming these allegations were true in the first place, which is likely. Welcome the juridical system of the 21st — a system where you can commit a crime and get away with, provided you are wealthy enough and can buy people’s silence.
After presiding over a 50 percent rise in Apple’s stock over the past year, CEO Steve Jobs can afford to shrug off shareholder questions about stock option backdating and environmental policies.
Microsoft too has paid for skeptics to take their claims of fraud elsewhere. This includes a Microsoft executive that accused Microsoft of fraud. Microsoft paid money for these claims of fraud to just go away.
What about regulation? The SEC proved its impotence when it let SCO off the hook just a while before they declared their surprise bankruptcy.
Tomorrow’s IRC logs will contain a lot more information about it. This requires tidying up. Meanwhile, watch this new comment from Linux Today:
Generous Gates has yet to give away money to match the huge amounts that the Foundation saved in taxes (ie, the bill you and I pick up).
This is only the tip of the ice-berg of Generous Gates’ generosity.
PS. Generous Gates is converting his paper money inflated wealth into safer currencies courtesy of means such as Ma’s and Pa’s savings (including their pension funds). Secrecy and tricks (such as using a nonprofit Foundation) ensure Ma and Pa buy MSFT real high, kind of like those Enron folks that bought real high, too.
PS2. Gates private investments are benefiting mightily from the Foundations’ donations. Of course, the more billionaires that participate, the more difficult it is to trace down the back-scratching.
The Gates Foundation is a sensitive subject that was covered before, e.g. here. There’s not much goodwill out there, except for in the minds of those that live in a fantasy world. The same goes for other companies and individuals, but one has to be intimately familiar and backed by verifiable proof to make the proper allegations.
Here is an old article that is also relevant. [Update: this article seems to have been pulled over a year ago, but the Internet Archive has a copy]
Microsoft’s past stock options practice poses questions
Microsoft in 1999 announced that it would end a policy of awarding options at monthly lows and said it would take a $217 million charge, though many details of that discontinued practice haven’t been widely known, The Wall Street Journal said Friday.
Those details raise questions about how Microsoft began the practice, what prompted the company to end it and whether the way the options were dated–at 30-day lows the month after they were granted–influenced other companies, it said.
If S.u.S.E. was acquired by a corrupt company, which seem true based on the citation at the top, then it can hopefully isolate and dissociate itself from Novell some time in the future. OpenSUSE could do this.
Microsoft may now be injecting money into Novell in order to keep its strategy against GNU/Linux, ODF and Free software going. Suffice to say, Novell is provably a friend of Microsoft more than it is a friend of Free software. Novell is not SUSE. It’s broader than SUSE. █
Update #2: Another comment on the article above (from the Internet Archive):
Lessons of Enron
I’m not going to jump on the microsucks band wagon. I would point out that if the enron scandal held any lessons for us, it should be that questionable business practices should be dealt with harshly. I wonder how many other companies are well on their way down the enron road? What will it do to the economy when the s*** finally hits the fan?
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