Monday, October 18, 2010

On true motives - Some remarks on Bradleys Kuhn's blog post

DISCLAIMER: The following is just my personal opinion on the blog post. It is no official statement by any organisation or something and I admit that I wrote this on a netbook running Kubuntu, which probably makes me biased.
Before I go on, it is probably worthwhile to remind ourselves: Bradley Kuhn is certainly a guy who lives up to his own standards, e.g., working as the director of the Software Freedom Conservancy pro bono for some months and Mark Shuttleworth dumps larger amounts of his own money (estimated 8 million US dollar each year) into a company called Canonical that works on Ubuntu. He does not only give his money, but he also works on Ubuntu himself. So, from the outside I'd say both share a passion for free software and both of them do not want to give their money for the good cause forever. Kuhn will be employed in January and Mark Shuttleworth tries to make his company profitable.
In his blog post Kuhn asserts that it is the admitted goal of Shuttleworth to make Ubuntu an Open Core project. My problem with this is twofold. First, Kuhn's understanding of Open Core is quite different from my definition. For him projects that require some sort of copyright agreement and do not allow outside contributions are Open Core, for me a project is only Open Core if it has an open core and some additional (but very necessary/desireable) proprietary stuff on top. I do not see any evidence that Ubuntu is going for the latter, but I agree that the copyright agreement can be evidence for the first. Second, Shuttleworth does not even say that he wants Ubuntu to go into this direction, let alone admits anything.
I do not know whether Shuttleworth's comparison of the history of GTK and QT is factually right and whether his claims on this topic have any merit, but I guess they don't. So, instead of complaining about this Kuhn talks about Canonical's copyright agreement like in some other blog posts before and jumps to conclusions not found in Shuttleworth's utterances. As Kuhn said "I am reading between the lines". For someone who likes to refer to the golden rule of network protocols "always be conservative in what you emit and liberal in what you accept", this seems not the right thing to do.
I do not claim that the copyright agreement might not be problematic, but I would rather have both of them check the facts and then claim something. Moreover, I would really like people on and elsewhere not to cook up these things. This is just plainly annoying!
Bradley Kuhn has put some clarifications on his blog post (in fact they were there when I was writing my initial remarks from offline country) and also responded to my remarks. Kudos for that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

GNU TeXmacs

From time to time I want to present some of the software I use here. Today it is:

GNU TeXmacs

What is it?

GNU TeXmacs is a wysiwyg editor with LaTeX import/export. It handles the typographical needs of those who need to type complex formulas, does automatic referencing and bibliographies without the need to know LaTeX. Moreover it allows you to type mathematics really fast and frictionless due to congenial on-the-fly composing of symbols.

What is real world use?

I use GNU TeXmacs for shorter and longer mathematical writing, i.e., from exercise sheets to complex documents. I have written major parts of my phd thesis with TeXmacs and drafts of articles for mathematical journals. Why only major parts of my thesis? Well, sometimes you have to meet certain standards, e.g., use special LaTeX classes and so on, but TeXmacs is my first choice in those cases as well. You can rapidly prototype your text in TeXmacs and export to LaTeX for fine-tunning and adjusting to the necessities. Daniel Bump wrote an excellent book an Lie groups in the Springer Lecture Notes in Mathematics series in that way.

What to try first?

You should try composing formulas first, just to get an impression, cf. Help -> Manual -> Mathematical Formulas in the menu. Insert a $ and type the following sequence on your keyboard (words in CAPS refer to the corresponding keys on the keyboard and the white spaces are just for readability)


and you will end up with a nicely formatted formula of natural numbers. This looks more complicated than it is, but is much faster than writing down the corresponding LaTeX

(x_n)_{n \in \mathhbb{N} }.

You have to try to believe :-).

But that is by no means all the goodness there is to TeXmacs. For instance you can use interactive sessions like shown below for Shell, maxima, python, R and many more:

There is also a very nice plot mode:

Where is additional information?

GNU TeXmacs has a web site at which is written in TeXmacs as well and exported to html. It is a GNU project and you can find the sources on Savannah

What is the license?

GNU TeXmacs is licensed or GPL version 3.

Any possible caveats?

Be aware that using GNU TeXmacs may be quite addictive and may really spoil the fun of writing direct LaTeX. Additionaly, there is a bug in recent version which breaks the TAB use in Ubuntu/Kubuntu, if you start TeXmacs from the menu. Starting it from a terminal solves this issue as a temporay workaround.

What will TeXmacs be like in the near future?

It will be based on QT. There is a QT port which is almost done, but just is not quite ready for productive use right now. It will look like this:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Complaints about Ubuntu not promoting free software - a user's perspective

Having a job which involves commuting and many train delays, I am finally able to share a few of my thoughts about Ubuntu and the discussions that have taken place in the !Ubuntu group and elsewhere in the last few months.

DISCLAIMER: (1) Right now I use Ubuntu for about 95%,of my computer needs, the last 5% are reserved mostly to photo and video editing on MacOS X. I you feel that this disqualifies me to talk about Ubuntu and the Ubuntu community, than you should probably not read this and go somewhere else.
(2) I have used Linux in various distros (including, Fedora, Suse, Mandriva, Debian and Ubuntu) but not as exclusive operating system for years before.
(3) I have not contributed any code to open source projects. In fact other than some donations, some support of new users and bug reports I have contributed nothing at all. :-(
(4) When I say "free software" this includes stuff like X11 or Apache.

So I should not talk about this stuff, because I am merely a user? In fact, I talk because I am just a user.

Let me briefly summarize some of the complains about Ubuntu

• Ubuntu is not promoting free software anymore, because Canonical asked on official forums, if users want Skype, iTunes or Photoshop support in Ubuntu.
• Ubuntu is not promoting free software anymore, because Lucid Live-CD does not include Gimp in favor of the mono based f-spot.
• Ubuntu is not promoting free software anymore, because Lucid includes a Music Store (which additionally does not sell .ogg titles).
• Ubuntu is not promoting free software anymore, because the only implementation of the Ubuntu One protocol aka the Ubuntu One server is proprietary.
• Ubuntu is not promoting free software anymore, because the window buttons are on the left side in Ubuntu and 10.10 sees a global menubar for netbooks.

I care for these complains because I feel that Ubuntu is treated unfair in a sense, I shall explain now: The most extreme position I have seen in the discussion was that free software is all about getting rid of proprietary software and "installing the GPL in people's minds". In this way Ubuntu is doomed for mainstream, because most people want to use their computer and not be installed something in their mind, nor do they care if their software is proprietary as long as it is reasonably priced (in the best case free as in beer, but many people will pay, if the software really works). If you cut these people of their beloved Skype, for example, they will just go somewhere else.

In my opinion the main problem in any such discussions is that there is this ideal world of free software only computer systems in which everybody is free and equal. It is a good thing to aim for this ideal, but it is not realistic in the near future.The Ubuntu project is trying to implement their vision in their way as good as possible, but for today's users and today's needs. Do they look a little bit too much in the Apple direction (Music Store vs. iTunes, Ubuntu One vs. Mobile Me, f-spot vs. iPhoto, UI design)? I suppose so, but I do not fail to see that these four changes can be beneficial for many users. Furthermore, Ubuntu has to be a successful product that earns money for Canonical and it would be dishonest not to respect this. I fail to see how that is in contradiction to promoting free software at all. Has the Ubuntu One Server to be closed source? Maybe not, but right now I fail to see how this hurts the openness of the rest of Ubuntu. The Ubuntu projects do not violate the GPL or other free licenses, it does not ship any non-free software in the standard distribution and non-free drivers are clearly marked. On the contrary Ubuntu commits a fair part to upstream projects and promotes free software by providing a great free operating system.

Any advise to change to X, Y or Z because Ubuntu is not about free software is just stupid. Even worse are those "if you use Ubuntu, than you are supporting non-free software"-claims. Is free software movement suddenly about threatening others? If this kind of arguments continue then nobody will switch to Ubuntu or other distros from Windows and MacOS X, because people will be too annoyed to even look at free software.

So what does Ubuntu offer that attracts me as a user? Well the first thing is that stuff works (mostly), but not more or less than on other systems. Free software that is buggy on a large scale will only terrify users and make them run. (Please, I know that many think Windows is largely flawed and buggy, but most of the time it works for most people.) In fact, things have to run smoother on Ubuntu than on Windows or MacOS X: why should one take the additional effort of changing habits, if there is no gain felt.

I use Skype and even bought proprietary software to be able to do my job on Ubuntu. So called free software evangelists would say that Ubuntu does a bad job for the free software movement in putting time and effort into support of this kind of proprietary stuff, but without it Ubuntu would be useless to me and many others!

But aren't there many things to be criticized with respect to the relation to upstream projects, the new theme, stupid outstanding bugs that are not fixed for years, Mark Shuttleworth role, the status of the community etc? Yes, but they have nothing to do with the complains above.

That's all for now.