Is open source software sustainable?

Recently, a genuinely concerned coworker expressed concern that “not paying for software [may] ultimately kill the industry” because it encourages people expect something for nothing.

For those who would like this and other common concerns about open software answered, I recommend reading Open Source-onomics. Here’s a list of concerns it addresses:

  • “Open Source is not economically viable”
  • “Not paying for software will ultimately kill the industry”
  • “Why will programmers continue to contribute code if they can’t make money from it?”
  • “Even Open Source development involves effort, so there has to be payment for that effort”
  • “Are Open Source programmers writing themselves out of their jobs?”
  • “But free isn’t natural. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
  • “Is software a commodity?”
  • “Who will invest in software development if it doesn’t yield a return?”
  • “Open Source may have a niche, but proprietary commercial products will continue to rule”
  • “Customers will never trust something that is free”
  • “Open Source may release value, but it doesn’t create value”

For those who would like even more detailed reading, I recommend David Wheeler’s “Why Open Source Software? Look at the numbers!

Utah’s Diebold voting machines

We don’t need computers to enable voting in our republic. Technology can serve us, or we can be slaves to technology. In the case of electronic voting, the technology does not serve us sufficiently well to compensate for the risk and expense that it introduces. We are better off manually counting votes, with witnesses to verify.

Nearly three years ago, I voiced concern about the security of up-and-coming electronic voting systems in my home state, Utah. My colleagues and I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, and I spoke with the Utah County Commissioner. At the time, the commissioner told me that they wouldn’t buy Diebold machines, due to security concerns they’d heard about from other states.

Apparently, security concerns aren’t of concern — “All 29 counties [in the state of Utah] signed a contract saying they would use the Diebold machines,” said Michael Cragun, director of the State Elections Office. Officials “are aware of the problems, but Diebold is addressing it.” Excuse my skepticism, but I’ve heard that one before. Diebold will not address the problems until their feet are held to the fire. The only way we will get secure electronic voting is to 1. require full vendor responsibility for flaws, 2. have the systems openly peer reviewed for security flaws or bugs by experts, and 3. electronic election results must be audited. However, we don’t need electronic voting. The current, manual procedures aren’t broken.

Deseret News Article:,4382,635194578,00.html

Questions we should be asking of e-voting vendors:

Refactoring C++ with Ref++

IntelliJ IDEA has world-class refactoring support for Java. I’ve never seen a good tool for refactoring C++ code, until now: Ref++ for Visual Studio 2003 and 2005. Admittedly, it isn’t nearly as good as the refactoring tools available for Java code, but it’s a start, and Ref++ saves time.

Fedora Core 5

I’ve been using RedHat/Fedora distributions of Linux since 1995. I typically keep my home machines running a fairly recent release. I find that it’s easier to upgrade if I don’t procrastinate through too many releases.

On the other hand, I’ve found that upgrading too soon can be risky. I depend on third party repositories for some of the software that I use (e.g. an ntfs driver). It takes between two to four weeks before the software repositories start offering their packages for a new distribution.

If I wait at least a few weeks to upgrade, after the release of the new distribution, and I run into problems, I can usually google to find a solution to the problem. If I’m on the bleeding edge, I don’t get that benefit. Instead, I’m the one posting problems and solutions that other people google.

On Monday, I downloaded the recently released Fedora Core 5 DVD via bittorrent, and decided to upgrade my less-critical Fedora Core 3 machine.

Backup. Even though I’m generally careful, I find that it’s easier to recover from a mistake if I have a complete backup. For this, I used Norton Ghost.

First try: I was impressed by the shiny new graphics in the installer. After several screens of questions and after it analyzed my system to figure out what packages to upgrade, it informed me that I didn’t have enough disk space (I only had 2 Gig of free space). The install aborted and I had to reboot my machine.

Yum cache: I use yum to upgrade my machines, and I happen to know that by default, it leaves a cache of the packages in the /var/cache/yum directory. I deleted the directory, which freed up 2 Gig of space. Shouldn’t the installer do that for me?

Second try: The installer ran without a hitch. It upgraded my system, even though it took a while.

First boot: The boot process hung when it tried to initialize OpenCT smart card terminals, whatever those are. I don’t think I have any. Back in the days when Iinstalled FC3, I had to add “acpi=off” and “pci=noacpi” to the boot loader before FC3 would work on my system. The FC5 upgrade had left those options in place. I deleted the options, and rebooted. This time, the boot process didn’t hang. Wierd. There may not have been a correlation.

First login: The GNOME desktop loaded much more quickly than with FC3. However, several error dialogs appeared. Various resources couldn’t be located, including icons for desktop launchers that I had customized. As I already mentioned, the third party repositories that I use with yum didn’t have FC5 packages available.

Upgrade versus Fresh Install: I find that upgrades are less than ideal, especially when I want to experience the new features of a distribution. Upgrades tend to leave out new features and new packages. Since RedHat has been changing SELinux policices at a rapid rate, an upgrade isn’t likely to leave SELinux in a workable state. A fresh install is better. For a home, desktop system that isn’t a server, it’s probably best to disable SELinux. It will be interesting to see how SELinux fares compared to the now open-source AppArmor that is included with SUSE. AppArmor appears to be easer to use and configure, but SELinux has fewer gaps in security coverage. I tend to think that ease-of-use will win out. In any case, I do use SELinux to protect one of my web servers.

Overtime Considered Harmful

I just read “Overtime Considered Harmful” by Basil Vandegriend. Sometimes, overtime can result in increased productivity and success. However, “Working regular overtime (more than a week or two) has a significant negative impact on a person. Factors such as increased stress, strains on family and personal relationships, less sleep, and less exercise all add up over time to affect an individual’s mental, emotional and physical health. Over time, this can result in increased physical illnesses, lack of motivation, and eventually complete burnout.”

I believe that everyone is different in their capacity to handle overtime. I’ve seen some people that can handle working 60 hours a week for months at a time, with little apparent loss in productivity. Other people can’t handle overtime for more than a few days. Those who work 70 or 80 hours a week to meet a deadline almost always burn out and switch jobs when the death-march ends.

A colleage of mine (I’ll call him Brian) refused to work mandatory overtime in order to meet a deadline. Brian’s coworkers became stressed and tired, and made more mistakes. In contrast, Brian came to work each day refreshed, with a sharp mind. He tackled and solved tough problems, fixed other’s bugs, and smoothed out rough edges. His efforts made it possible for the team to meet their deadline. Without his courage and self discipline, the team would have failed.

We owe it to ourselves, our families, our peers, and our employer to work at a sustainable rate; a rate that will maximize productivity and foster teamwork in the long run; a rate that will allow us to lead happy, balanced lives.

Change the world…

“The effect of our words and acts is tremendous in this world. Every moment of life you are changing to a degree the lives of the whole world…. No good deed, no kind word can be spoken without its effect being felt for good upon all.” — David O. McKay