Category Archives: Interviews

Interviews for press, etc.

Interview with Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network

Adam Holt and I were interviewed last night by the Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network about our not-for-profit work to improve educational opportunities for children in the developing world.

We talked about One Laptop per Child, OLPC Australia and Sugar Labs. We discussed the challenges of providing education in the developing world, and how that compares with the developed world.

Australia poses some of its own challenges. As a country that is 90% urbanised, the remaining 10% are scattered across vast distances. The circumstances of these communities often share both developed and developing world characteristics. We developed the One Education programme to accommodate this.

These lessons have been developed further into Unleash Kids, an initiative that we are currently working on to support the community of volunteers worldwide and take to the movement to the next level.

A bit of corporate indulgence…

Apologies for pimping my employer, but I became the subject of the inaugural ‘Meet the Team‘ portion of the BizCubed newsletter.

It’s a good feeling knowing that you work for a company that actually cares about open source and open standards. For example, we sponsored the Government 2.0 event in Canberra last week.

For the sake of posterity, I’ll reproduce the interview here:

Meet The Team — Sridhar Dhanapalan

We are more than a consulting company – we are a great team! In this section we will be introducing one member of our team in each newsletter.Sridhar Dhanapalan

What do you do at BizCubed?

I make sure that our Support subscribers are receiving legendary service. We like to be an open company, and so knowledge sharing is important to us. I write a lot of documentation on our wiki for the benefit of the Pentaho community.

Internally, I ensure that our team is properly enabled with any information or infrastructure that they need. I take care of our servers and deployments. I also do the occasional development of BI solutions. It’s a varied role — I never have a reason to be bored!

What attracts you to open source BI?

It seems incongruous that while we demand transparency from, for instance, our political systems and financial institutions, they rely on software that is opaque.

Processes and organisations cannot be thoroughly audited if the software that drives them is closed. I also believe that in using open source and open standards, you are showing respect for your users and customers. Your users can see what you see; touch what you touch. They can inspect and interrogate to their heart’s content, and even make their own modifications if they so wish. They may not opt to exercise those rights, but ultimately it’s their choice and not their vendor’s.

What were you doing before joining BizCubed?

I’ve been using computers since the early 1980s, and I discovered open source just over ten years ago. I’ve been fortunate enough to make a career out of it. I have a background in network engineering, satellite communications, systems administration and good ol’ fashioned tech support.

I completed university with a Science degree majoring in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, which I feel gave me an appreciation for the intersection of technology and society. I think there should be more attention paid to this in ICT, and it’s an area I often encounter in the field of BI.

Do you work with any projects other than Pentaho?

I’ve been very active in the open source community over the past ten years. For the first half of this decade, I was an administrator, editor and author at what was at the time the largest Mandrake (now Mandriva) Linux community Web site.

I’m currently the president of the Sydney Linux Users Group and also on the Linux Australia Council. Through those, I organise and co-ordinate meetings and events for the Australian Linux community. Other than that, I’m involved in the Ubuntu community, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the Grameen Foundation and a few other projects.

What do you do in your spare time?

My open source contributions take up the bulk of my non-work hours. I read a lot of news and current affairs, and I’ve been known to go on Wikipedia binges. Other than that, I spend time with family and friends.

Open Source software is the software establishment!

Note: This post is about a news article I was interviewed for. My comments are below.

It can be amusing when news articles or blogs are written about a report/study that has only been released or read in excerpt. Small snippets can be extremely controversial on their own, and are easily taken out of the context of the gestalt article.

Such has been the case with the announcement of the Standish Group’s report, titled ‘Trends in Open Source‘. The report is available in full to Standish subscribers, or for a fee of $US 1,000 per copy. Standish themselves chose to drum-up publicity in a press release two and a half weeks ago:

Open Source software is raising havoc throughout the software market. It is the ultimate in disruptive technology, and while to it is only 6% of estimated trillion dollars IT budgeted annually, it represents a real loss of $60 billion in annual revenues to software companies.

Some commentators pounced on this in defence of FOSS, and in doing so played right into Standish’s hands. A week later, other reports chose to focus on the technical perceptions of FOSS solutions, in particular security. Some of these articles basically said, “we haven’t been able to read the full report, but this is what we’ve been told”.

More informed accounts have hit the virtual presses in recent days, and it’s been revealed that the report is very positive overall with regards to FOSS. When iTnews asked me for comment, I was assured that the report had been thoroughly read. I said a lot of things, but the quotation that made the final cut is the following:

FOSS is inherently compatible with a free market, and hence with business. There is no closed-off ‘command economy’ that is characterised by proprietary software companies. The software and its development are totally open to the world.

Following the interview, I tried to distil some key points about FOSS:

  • The keys are transparency and accountability, as well as freedom over your own information and independence from vendor lock-in.
  • Most FOSS is based on open standards, which means that users/companies are not tying their data/processes to one vendor or piece of software. Some might be wary of FOSS, but I don’t think anyone can argue against the merits of open standards.
  • There is plenty of FOSS that works well on proprietary platforms (like Windows). There is no inherent tie-in with Linux.
  • FOSS has been most successful where it isn’t noticed. This can be in embedded devices, or in popular desktop applications like Firefox and OpenOffice.org.
  • Most people might think of a ‘computer’ as a desktop computer, but most of ICT (and ICT growth) is actually elsewhere (servers, consumer electronics, mobile phones, telecoms, embedded, supercomputers, etc.). Linux and FOSS is far more popular in these fields.
  • Most of the Internet is based on FOSS and open standards built around FOSS. For instance, TCP/IP networking was built for BSD UNIX (which is open source), and the majority of Web servers run the open source Apache web server.

Obviously there are more points than these, but I deliberately kept this as a quick ‘off the top of my head’ exercise as a means of preventing it from growing into an encyclopaedic tome.

LotD: Ubuntu theme for Windows

A Different Kind of Interview

Every now and then I’m invited to provide media commentary on an issue regarding technology, particularly when it is to do with (GNU/)Linux or other free and open source software. On this occasion, the questions took a slightly different turn with the news that well-known Linux developer Hans Reiser had been convicted of murdering his wife.

Hans had gained a reputation for his skill in coding as well as his eccentric personality. His sentence raised concerns for the future of the filesystem which he had created, ReiserFS, which many had come to rely upon for both personal and professional use.

iTnews reached out to me to find out the word on the (open source) street. Here’s a quote:

“When it came out in the early 2000’s, ReiserFS was considered a revelation,” said Sydney Linux Users Group president Sridhar Dhanapalan. “But it was never taken seriously outside of desktop users, and never seen as completely ready for server use.”

“When it came to stability and integrity of the data, you just didn’t want to trust a file system like that in cases of servers.”

What if… Windows went open source?

Sam Varghese over at iTWire asked me a couple of days ago for input on whether FOSS would be affected if the Windows source code was released. I started drafting a response, expecting to be finished quickly, but the ideas just kept flowing. The end result was a touch over a thousand words! I was expecting Sam to maybe quote a token sentence or two in his article. To my surprise, he basically reproduced (with a little paraphrasing) the whole thing! 🙂

The article is here. Skip to page 4 to start reading my contribution.

Here is my complete response to Sam. As you can see, very little was left out of the article.

The impact on FOSS would depend on what circumstances the code was released under. Windows code is already available under Microsoft’s ‘shared source’ programme. In this state, you must sign a restrictive NDA to see the code, and after that your mind is forever tainted with Microsoft’s intellectual property. Write anything even remotely similar to the code you were deigned to see, and you leave yourself open to litigation. In other words, taking part in shared source is a sure-fire way to torpedo your career in software.

Microsoft have for years been experimenting to find a licence that they can convince people is ‘free enough’. Fortunately they haven’t succeeded. The danger if they did would be to shift the balance in the open source world away from free software and towards a model that is more restrictive but still accepted. They have enough code to seriously upset the balance, ignoring for the moment the complexity (which includes also legacy cruft, bloat and so on) and hence difficulty for anyone to actually comprehend the code and participate in development.

Quality (or rather, lack of quality) aside, Microsoft’s code could be useful to see how formats and protocols are implemented. Linus Torvalds once wrote, “A ‘spec’ is close to useless. I have _never_ seen a spec that was both big enough to be useful _and_ accurate. And I have seen _lots_ of total crap work that was based on specs. It’s _the_ single worst way to write software, because it by definition means that the software was written to match theory, not reality.” It’s one thing to have documentation (as the Samba team have recently managed to acquire), but there’s nothing to guarantee that there are no mistakes or deviations (intentional or otherwise) in the actual implementation. The WINE project is a classic example – consigned to faithfully reimplement all of Microsoft’s bugs, even if they run counter to documents you might find on MSDN.

There are many ‘open source’ licences. Too many, in fact. Many of these are incompatible with each other, and a ludicrous volume of them are just MPL with ‘Mozilla’ replaced with $company. What keeps open source strong are the licences that either have clout in their own right or ones which can share code with those licences. The GPL is right at the centre of this, and we should be proud that the core of open source’s superiority is Free Software. Microsoft could try and release code that meets the Free Software Definition but is intentionally incompatible with the GPL, as Sun did with OpenSolaris and CDDL. It still remains to be seen if OpenSolaris is of any success, and I think GPL incompatibility is certainly a factor there (for example, they can’t take drivers from Linux, so its hardware support remains poor). OpenOffice.org, on the other hand, is a prime example of a large proprietary project that has been released under a GPL-compatible licence (LGPL) and has gone on to be successful as a consequence. That success would not have happened if code could not be shared with other FOSS projects, integration could not be made (direct linking, etc.) and mindshare not won (FOSS advocates to write code, report bugs, evangelise, etc.).

The big stinger here is patents. Sun have addressed this in the past with a strong patent covenant, and more recently they’ve been trying to do it properly by for instance relicensing OpenOffice.org as LGPLv3 (hence granting its users the inherent patent protections of that licence). Would a mere ‘Covenant Not to Sue’ suffice for Microsoft? In the case of Microsoft’s recent releases of binary Office formats documentation, their covenant only covers non-commercial derivations. Similarly, their Singularity Research Development Kit was released a few weeks ago under a ‘Non-Commercial Academic Use Only’ licence.

It is be vital that companies have as full rights to use the code as non-commercial groups. Otherwise, the code would be deemed to be non-Free (Free Software doesn’t permit such discrimination). The contributions made by commercial entities into the FOSS realm is immense and cannot be ignored. To deny them access would be a death sentence for your code. Microsoft would be stuck improving it on their own, and in that case what was the point in releasing it in the first place? Don’t malware writers have enough of an advantage?

Don’t trust what a single company says on its own. Novell was for a short while the darling of the FOSS world… then they made a deal with Microsoft. I’m glad that many of us were sceptical of Mono back before the Novell-MS deal, because I’m sure as hell ain’t touching it now. .NET might be an ECMA ‘standard’, but like OOXML it is a ‘standard’ controlled wholly by Microsoft. Will such a standard remain competitive and open? We’ve seen this in other standards debates, a good example being the development of WiFi. Companies jostled to get their own technologies into the official standard. The end result might indeed be open, but if it’s your technology in there you already have the initiative over everyone else. If Windows is accepted as being open source, Microsoft will continue to dominate by virtue of controlling and having unparalleled expertise in the underlying platform.

To raise the most basic (and in this case, flawed) argument, free software is fantastic for all users no matter what. Free (not just ‘open’) Windows means that Free Software has finally achieved global domination – a Free World, if you will. By this argument, we should simply rejoice in our liberation from proprietary software and restrictive formats/protocols.

Of course, I have already demonstrated that this cornucopia likely will not eventuate even if Microsoft released the Windows source code as open source (even GPL). The software on top will remain proprietary (the GPL’s ‘viral’ nature aside). We’ll still have proprietary protocols and formats – and even digital restrictions management (DRM) – at the application level. In the grand scheme of things, the end consequence on FOSS of Windows source code being released might possibly be zilch.

LotD: Happy Pi Day everyone!

Interviewed

The unholy combination of work and study have devoured me over the past month.

One point of mention is an interview I had with James Purser for Open Source On The Air. Having never been interviewed before, I was rather nervous. I was also waiting to be accepted or declined as an Ubuntu Member at the Community Council meeting, which only increased my anxiety. It also didn’t help that it was past 10pm, and I was suffering from a lack of sleep. If I sound dopey, please keep those points in mind. With that disclaimer announced, I think I conducted myself quite well.

In other news, I’m glad to hear that my nomination of Elkbuntu for the Linux Australia People’s Choice Community Member of the Year Award (wow, that’s a mouthful!) was heeded. Congratulations, Melissa! I am looking forward to drinking that beer!

 

Link of the day: Paris Hilton vomits while singing

I made ‘The Inquirer’!

… well, sort of, anyway. Allow me to explain.

Today, we had a news submission about the BSA‘s new scheme to teach children about the ‘evils’ of software piracy. To make this ‘learning’ (or should I say ‘indoctrination’) more fun for the kiddies, they got a mascot. Take a good look at it, what do you think it is?

It’s a ferret… supposedly.

When I first read that the BSA was using a ferret, I thought that we should call it a rat instead, since BSA is filled with dirty low-life rats. Then I hopped over to the site and had a look at it for myself. I swear, it looks like a weasel! A drugged-up homie weasel!

On a whim, I fired off an e-mail to Mike Magee at my favourite IT news site The Inquirer. If you’re not familiar with The Inq, think of it as The Register without the hubris. Indeed, Mike was the founder of The Reg, and he told me that he still owns 23% of it. Here’s part of the e-mail I sent to Mike:

The Business Software Alliance has received US Justice Department funding of $200,000 to ‘educate’ children about software piracy. More info at

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19677-2003May6.html

What I’m wondering is why this organisation, which boasts some of the richest companies in the world as its members, is receiving US government funding?

Another point of interest is the mascot of this new Playitcybersafe.com initiative. It is _supposed_ to be a ferret. To me it looks like a weasel. A seriously drugged-out, homie weasel. A weasel may be the perfect choice for the BSA, but is a drugged-out homie character really the best choice to encourage children not to steal? I would say it does the exact opposite. You can see this weasel at

http://www.playitcybersafe.com/images/kidshome_ferret.gif

And here’s part of Mike’s response:

Many thanks for the nice letter. And for the tip. The BSA is up to all sorts of tricks and we’ll certainly cover this one.

A few hours later… BANG! Weasel Watch is born! Some excerpts:

HEAVILY SUBSIDED TRADE organisation the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has received $200,000 funding from the US government to promote a software piracy scheme aimed at children.

But that has raised questions about why the Justice Department has chipped into the scheme, seeing as the BSA is already subsidised, in fact paid for, to the tune of millions, by some of the richest IT companies in the world.

and

In fact the BSA Weasel, pictured above, looks like it’s either drugged up or it’s about to bite someone’s ankle, don’t you think?

SCORE!!!