Free like...

A favorite bon mot of open source critics is that open source software is “free like a free puppy”. Tee hee! Open source advocates should remember to keep the rejoinder handy, that proprietary software is “free like a free hit of crack”. Oracle “Express”, SQL Server “Express”, ESRI educational copies, yes I am looking at you.


I was blessed (or cursed) to go through my undergraduate years from 1989 to 1993, and at that time, I’m sad to say, there wasn’t a lot of nerd chic. I did my degree in Mathematics. The computer science student on my dorm floor ended up gainfully employed programming mainframes at Safeway. It was not, shall we say, a glamourous time for young nerds. On the other hand, the pressure wasn’t exactly on.

What do young nerds today make of the examples before them, the Brins and Pages and Zuckerbergs? Is there a sense of performance anxiety? Does the start-up zeitgeist weigh on them?

Reading articles about how Mark Zuckerberg screwed his college employers, I am torn. On the one hand, is the satisfaction that the guy who did the actual work and had the particular, detailed vision of the social network got the reward, not his moneyed waspy employers. On the other hand, he clearly screwed them in a very premeditated fashion. What led to this kind of anti-social behavior? The lure of the Big Score? With Brin and Page in the back of your mind, maybe becoming a 20-something billionaire doesn’t seem so far fetched? Maybe it’s worth violating some social norms for?

Anyhow, now Zuckerberg is part of the pantheon. And it makes me wonder what the psychology is, today, in the nerdly dorm rooms? Is it still OK to go work for Safeway? Or is everyone secretly hoping they can spend a couple years drinking coke, working in the garage, and making it to the NerdBA?

The End of the End of General Purpose Computing

One of the memes that got slung around a log during the launch of the iPad and associated apologetics for the closed nature of iPad (and iPhone) software development was that we were at the “end of general purpose computing”, that the closed and controlled environment was a good thing, and in fact required in order to provide the seamless, user friendly experience necessary to bring computing, finally, to the unwashed masses.

In this meme, the limitations of the new platform—no multi-tasking, applications as unitary bundles that don’t share files, the lack of a (user visible) hierarchical file system—were all features, not drawbacks, they were in fact the core benefits that make computing understandable for grandma.

How quickly the worm turns. iPhone OS 4 now introduces multi-tasking, file sharing between applications, and all the associated user interface scruft that goes along with managing those concepts. Also, folders for holding the many application icons in your now-totally-crowded phone screens. And on and on.

So, now that bath water (the blessed “simple enough for grandma” experience) is heading over the balcony edge, can we have our baby back (open application development)?

You know you've arrived...

…when people start discussing the best way to replace you.

Seen amongst the abstracts in the FOSS4G Community Program Review: “Beyond PostGIS - New developments in Open Source Spatial Databases” and “JASPA, an alternative to PostGIS”.

Is that a bright shining light? I’m floating above my body…

FOSS4G Community Program Review

It’s that time of year again! The Community Program Review for FOSS4G has begun!

If you’re going to FOSS4G, or seriously thinking about going, the review is a way to ensure that the program includes topics you are interested in. You scroll through a list of all the abstracts the conference has received, and select the ones that are of interest to you. The conference committee tabulates all the results and uses that data to help build the program and to slot talks into rooms of appropriate size.

The number of abstracts is a good deal larger than the number of slots this year, so taking the time to do the review is a good idea if you’re planning to attend this year!