Saturday, September 30, 2006

Healthcare Illusions

I just read this on my Starbucks coffee cup:

"One of America's most cherished political illusions is that we all receive the same healthcare regardless of income. Another is that we don't ration healthcare. The reality is very different. A change is needed and we have the power to bring it about."

Dr. John Kitzhaber (also on Wikipedia)

Former governor of Oregon and healthcare reform advocate

Dr. Kitzhaber is the founder of a new movement known as the Archimedes Movement which states in its opening comments a quote from Archimedes:

"Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I can move the Earth."

The Archimedes Movement currently has a draft of a legislative proposal to help address the current crisis in health care. It is currently open for comments.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Free 376-page book on migrating to Linux

What timing - I just ranted a bit about the dichotomies in the Linux Desktop last night and this morning I get a link to an IBM Red Book which was authored by one of my friends driving our desktop strategy. The overview here looks pretty interesting - I haven't read the book yet but hope to soon.

Here's the announcement that went out with the book:

A final draft of the second edition of IBM's "Linux Client Migration Cookbook" is now available online for free downloading. It targets "IT environments that need to begin an evaluation of desktop Linux, or in a broader sense any organization whose strategy is to move toward greater adoption of open source software and open standards."

read more | digg story

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Linux Desktop Dichotomies?

Several years ago I was somewhat amused by the core Linux communities extreme focus on Linux on the desktop. More specifically, the focus was on Linux on *their* desktops because, after all, Linux was by the geeks, for the geeks. At that time, I was interested in enabling linux to run on larger hardware, as were several other folks working for vendors of larger hardware platforms. The initial and, even somewhat today, continuing resistance to scalability enhancements seemed painful at times - the ongoing refrain was that scalability could not hurt performance on desktop platforms. In other words, the primary focus of at least the kernel community was on the desktop systems.

Several years later, there are a number of blogs, papers, analysis like this one, which continue to show that Linux adoption on the server side has far surpassed the adoption rate on the desktop. There is some irony in the fact that the primary focus was on desktop for years before there was any focus on servers, and that in some ways the focus on desktops possibly slowed down the rate of development enabling high performance servers.

A further irony is that the standards for scalable code remained in general so high that I believe desktop performance improved as well from many of the enhancements designed for larger systems. Add to that that most of the server software takes advantage of a few key kernel APIs in the networking space, the locking space (futexes, epoll, etc.) that server and infrastructure applications tend to perform quite nicely on Linux. At the same time, though, most desktop software has become larger, more complex, more divergent on Linux, resulting in lower adoption rates of the Linux desktop and related client software.

This seems to be a case where the desktop communities have had a different and distinct focus from the Linux kernel community, who, in many cases actually enabled a richer set of desktop client software because of its general availability, low/free cost, full development environment (for free), etc. I don't completely understand how the desktop community failed to achieve as much market adoption overall as the server community did. There are probably lots of reasons, too numerous to go into here.

The good news is that there is a lot of focus now on Linux on the Desktop. Everything from the extremely enjoyable "Why Userspace Sucks" by Dave Jones (LWN coverage is great!). His slides (tar.gz) are available as well. Then there is the Portland Project which has a wiki where they are trying to find commonality in some of the basic services offered on the desktop. OSDL has also Desktop Linux initiative which is looking at the big picture, basically understanding all of the related open source communities, identifying gaps, finding commonalities, addressing ISV porting issues, etc. And, as part of the Desktop Linux initiative, they have set up a group of desktop architects as the focal points for these discussions.

Now, all of this work in progress doesn't mean that the solution is at hand or that it is easy. However, judging from reports on Novell's SLED, Red Hat's Fedora Core 6, Ubuntu & siblings, etc., there are a number of usable desktop environments today. One of the key problems that these desktops have been fighting is the old battle cry "But it isn't Microsoft!" Well, yeah, right, it isn't. Maybe in many ways the Linux desktops are better, in fact. Well, and there's the rub - there isn't just *one* Linux desktop that one can compare to Microsoft. There are many. And they are all different. And they don't have as many packaged applications on the shelves at Walmart or Costco. And, for various reasons, the Linux Desktop hasn't reached that "tipping point" where it gains a respectable following of ISV applications that are on par with all those specialized apps on the shelves at those high volume retail or wholesale stores.

The past three or four years have been "The Year of the Linux Desktop!" Are we closer? Not according to the sales/marketing/installation numbers. Are the numbers wrong? Maybe. But are they *that* wrong? I don't think so. Linux desktop adoption is definitely dragging, despite the rapidly maturing capabilities of the Linux Desktop.

Maybe 2007 will be the year of the Linux Desktop...

Software Patents and Open Source

It is amazing what daily meetings can do for productivity. There is a direct correlation between my blogging time and my additional meetings, I fear. But, I've been saving a backlog of interesting tidbits worth some commentary.

For instance, the latest one involves one of the open source heroes - well, he's a champion of sorts, if you consider the most radical proponent for overhauling our beliefs about intellectual property to be a hero. Many do. But RMS is usually a bit more extreme and radical than our global communities are able to handle. Take for instance this article, and his stance on OSDL's work on improving the (software) patent system. Part of RMS's assertion is that software ideas should not be protected at all - they should be freely shared. I'm not convinced that assertion is ideal for promoting small companies and new developments in a larger macro-economic view, although I also view the patent protection system as being unable to keep up with the times as it stands.

OSDL's effort is currently centered around improving the screening for patents that get approved. A logical step for improvement when an in depth analysis of many existing software patents can easily create debates about whether those patents had been previously implemented before and were thus not novel (the two basic premises for a good patent is that it is novel and implementable). Today, the US Patent Office only looks at a small set of sources, one being their own issued patents, for determining if something is novel. OSDL is asserting that Open Source has allowed many people to innovate without filing patents, and that source of innovation should be considered when examining the novelty of a patent. All in all, a reasonable goal, I believe.

I also believe the more fundamental question of whether the USPTO (or other patent systems world wide) should allow patents on software is still debateable. But the real value there has to be compared to the USPTO's original mission as defined in the Constitution, which (from the USPTO site) says:

The Constitution of the United States gives Congress the power to enact laws relating to patents, in Article I, section 8, which reads “Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

So, do software patents promote the progress of science and the useful arts? Or do they stifle innovation?

I think the jury is still out on that one.