mdlbear: (technonerdmonster)

If you develop software and haven't just returned from the moon, you've undoubtedly heard that GitHub is being acquired by Microsoft. Depending on your affiliations you might be spelling "being acquired by" as "selling out to". The rest of you are probably wondering what on Earth a GitHub is, and why Microsoft would want one. Let me explain.

Please note: this post isn't about my opinion of today's news. It's really too early to tell, though I may get into that a little toward the end. Instead, I'm going to explain what GitHub is, and why it matters. But first I have to explain Git.

Git is a version-control system. (Version-control systems are sometimes called "source code management" (SCM) systems. If you look closely you might even have spotted "scm" in git's URL up there at the end of the last paragraph.) Basically, a version-control system lets you record the complete history of a project, with what changes were made, who made the each change, when they changed it, and their notes about what they did and why. It doesn't have to be a software project, either. It can be recipes, photographs, books, the papers you're writing for school, or even blog entries. (Yes, I do.)

Before git, most version-control systems kept track of changes in text files (which of course is what all source code is) by recording which lines are different from the previous version. (It's usually done by a program called diff.) This was very compact, but it could also be very slow if you had to undo all the changes between two versions in order to see what the older one looked like.

Git, on the other hand, is blindingly fast in part because it works in the stupidest way possible (which is why it's called "git"). It simply takes the new version of each file that changed since the last version, zips it up, and stuffs it whole into its repository. So it takes git about the same amount of time to roll a file back two versions or two hundred.

The other thing that makes git fast is where it keeps all of its version information. Before git, most version-control systems used a centralized repository on a server somewhere. (Subversion, one of the best of these, even lets you browse the repository with a web browser.) That means that all the change information is going over a network. Git keeps its repository (these days everyone shortens that to "repo") on your local disk, right next to your working copy, in a hidden subdirectory called ".git".

Because its repo is local, and contains the entire history of your project, you don't need a network connection to use git. On the beach, in an airplane, on a boat, with a goat, it doesn't matter to git. It's de-centralized. It gets a little more complicated when more than one developer is working on a project.

Bob's been in the office all week working on a project. When his boss, Alice, comes back from the open source conference she's been at all week, all she has to do is tell git to fetch all the changes that Bob made while she was away. Git gets them directly from Bob's repo. If Alice didn't make any changes, that's called a "fast-forward" merge -- git just takes the changes that Bob made, copies those files into Alice's repo, updates her working tree, and it's done.

It's a little trickier if Alice had time to make some changes, too. Now Alice has to merge the two sets of changes, and then let Bob pull the merged files onto his computer. By the way, a "pull" is just a fetch followed by a merge, but it's so common that git has a shorthand way of doing it. (I'm oversimplifying here, but this isn't the time to go into the difference between merge and rebase. It's also not a good time to talk about branches -- maybe some other week.) As you can imagine, this gets out of hand pretty quickly, and it's even worse if there's a whole team working on the project.

The obvious thing to do is for the group to have one repo on a server somewhere that has what everyone agrees is the definitive set of files on it. Bob pushes his changes to the server, and when Alice tries to push her changes, git balks and gives her an error message. Now it's Alice's responsibility to make any necessary fixes and push them to the server. Actually, in a real team, Alice would send her proposed changes around by making a diff and sending email to the other team members to review, and not actually push her changes until someone approves them.

In a large team, this is kind of a hub-and-spokes arrangement. You can see where this is going, right?

GitHub is a company that provides a place for people and projects to put shared git repositories where other people can see them, clone them, and contribute to them. GitHub has become wildly popular, because it's a great place to share software. If you have an open-source software project, putting a public repo on GitHub is the most effective way to reach developers. It's so popular that Google and Microsoft shut down their own code-hosting sites (Google Code and CodePlex respectively) and moved to GitHub. Microsoft, it turns out, is GitHub's biggest contributor.

Putting a public repository on GitHub is free. If you want to set up private repositories, GitHub will charge you for it, and if your company wants to put a clone of GitHub on its own private servers they can buy GitHub Enterprise, but if your software is free, so's your space on GitHub.

That's a bit of a problem, because the software that runs GitHub is not free. That means that they need a steady stream of income to pay their in-house developers, because they're not going to get any help from the open-source developer community. GitHub lost $66 million in 2016, and doesn't really have a sustainable business model that would make them attractive to investors. They needed to get acquired, or they had a real risk of going under. And when a service based on proprietary software goes under, all of their customers have a big problem. But their users? Heh.

Everybody knows the old adage, "if you're getting a service for free you're not the customer, you're the product." That's especially true for companies like Google and Facebook, which sell their users' eyeballs to advertisers. It's a lot less true for a company whose users can leave any time they want, painlessly, taking all their data and their readers with them. I'm sure most of my readers here on Dreamwidth remember what happened to Livejournal when they got bought by the Russians. Well, GitHub is being bought by Microsoft. It's not entirely clear which is worse.

GitHub has an even worse problem than Livejournal did, because "cross-posting" is basically the way git works. There's a company called GitLab that looks a lot like GitHub, except that their core software -- the stuff that wraps a slick web interface around a git repository -- is open source. (They do sell extensions, but most projects aren't going to need them.) If you want to set up your own private GitLab site, it's free, and you can do it in ten minutes with a one-line command. If you find bugs, you can fix them yourself. You'll find a couple of great quotes from their blog at the end of the notes, but the bottom line is that 100,000 repositories have moved from GitHub to GitLab in the last 24 hours.

And once you've moved a project to GitLab, you don't have to worry about what happens to it, because the open-source core of it will continue to be maintained by its community. That's what happened when a company called Netscape went belly-up: Mozilla Firefox is still around and doing fine. And if the fact that GitLab is for profit is a problem for you, there's Apache Allura, gitolite3, gitbucket, and gitweb (to name a few). Go for it!


This so wasn't what I was planning to write today.

  @ Microsoft Reportedly Acquires GitHub | Linux Journal
    The article ends with a list of alternatives:
    Apache Allura
    GitBucket: A Git platform
  @ Microsoft acquires GitHub for $7.5 billion - TFiR
    " According to reports, GitHub lost over $66 millions in 2016. At the same time
      GitLab, a fully open source and decentralized service is gaining momentum, giving
      users a fully open source alternative. "
  @ Microsoft to acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion | Stories official press release
  @ Microsoft + GitHub = Empowering Developers - The Official Microsoft Blog
  @ A bright future for GitHub | The GitHub Blog
  @ Congratulations GitHub on the acquisition by Microsoft | GitLab
    " While we admire what's been done, our strategy differs in two key areas. First,
      instead of integrating multiple tools together, we believe a single application,
      built from the ground up to support the entire DevOps lifecycle is a better
      experience leading to a faster cycle time. Second, it’s important to us that the
      core of our product always remain open source itself as well. "
  @ GitLab Ultimate and Gold now free for education and open source | GitLab 
    " It has been a crazy 24 hours for GitLab. More than 2,000 people tweeted about
      #movingtogitlab. We imported over 100,000 repositories, and we've seen a 7x increase
      in orders. We went live on Bloomberg TV. And on top of that, Apple announced an
      Xcode integration with GitLab. "

Another fine post from The Computer Curmudgeon.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)
The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives | WHDb
The following fifty proprietary programs are listed in no particular order within broad categories along with their open source alternatives. In some cases you could probably write your own book on frustrations with the proprietary programs shown here. In other cases, you’ll discover that the open source alternative isn’t quite up to snuff yet. And, in other cases still, you’ll learn that some proprietary programs are real gems, but that the open source advocate can replace those gems with equally shiny objects from the open source repertoire.
I don't necessarily agree with everything in this list, but it's a good place to start if you're wondering whether your critical needs will be covered if you switch to Linux, or if you just want to try something different on Windows. Many of my favorites are on the list.

(From InfoWorld.)
mdlbear: (hacker glider)
MAKE: Blog: Open Source Hardware Gift Guide
...this year there is so much going on in the world of MAKE, open source, and beyond that we have a series of gift guides for this holiday season. The first one is our open source hardware gift guide - these are physical things you can buy that fit in to the new and exciting category of hardware we call open source hardware.
mdlbear: (hacker glider)
Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel:
Producing Open Source Software is a book about the human side of open source development. It describes how successful projects operate, the expectations of users and developers, and the culture of free software. It is available in bookstores and from the publisher (O'Reilly Media), or you can browse or download it here.
Producing Open Source Software is released under an open copyright that allows everyone to share and modify the book freely. The latest version is always here. The online version is the same as the commercially available print version — in other words, you can buy a printed copy and know that it's up-to-date. When and if there are significant differences, we will list them here.
It's available online as HTML, multi-page HTML, PDF, XML, and even as a Subversion repository.

This is a good introduction to the art of starting and managing an open source project. Starting and maintaining a community is very different from starting and maintaining a piece of software, so even an experienced hacker is likely to find something new and interesting here. Most of it is based on Fogel's experience with the Subversion project, but it's widely applicable, and the appendix listing free version control systems is reasonably comprehensive.

I'm not going to bother posting the TOC -- just go here for the real thing.

Well worth a read, and the price is right.
mdlbear: (iLuminati)
Red Hat Magazine | Building a community around your open source project
There are a vast number of fantastic open source projects out there, though for every one that is widely adopted, there are many that remain cloaked in relative obscurity. How can the open source development model best be leveraged to take advantage of community feedback, ideas, and testing, and ultimately gather code contributions? If you are just thinking about open sourcing a new project, what steps can you take to ensure a vibrant community? If you already have an open source project, how can you make your community more active? The community can make any project stronger, but they are not built automatically.
(Via Linux Weekly News. Comments also pointed to a book on Producing Open Source Software (available free (cc-at-sa) from its website; reviewed here). I'll get back to that when I have time.)

The broad outlines of a possible open source project are starting to come together in my mind, somewhere in the vicinity of my CD-production tools, the website management tools, and the (still hypothetical) distributed blogging stuff. The encrypted off-site backup scheme may be separate; hard to tell at this point. More on that later.
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
What comes after the information age
We have all learned a narrative about the history of economics that goes rather crudely like this: for most of human history, economic surplus could be derived from agriculture, and great feudal estates could be built on it. Then during the Industrial Revolution, agriculture became commoditized and value moved to manufacturing. After that, value moved to information.

Furthermore, to remain profitable, each stage of economic growth had to adopt techniques from later stages: agriculture had to become more like manufacturing, and then both had to adopt information-rich practices.

But the Information Age was surprisingly short. In an age of Wikipedia, powerful search engines, and forums loaded with insights from volunteers, information is truly becoming free (economically), and thus worth even less than agriculture or manufacturing. So what has replaced information as the source of value?

The answer is expertise. Because most activities offering a good return on investment require some rule-breaking--some challenge to assumptions, some paradigm shift--everyone looks for experts who can manipulate current practice nimbly and see beyond current practice. We are all seeking guides and mentors.
I'm not sure I entirely agree. I think creativity and craftsmanship come into it, too. They're not the same thing, though they often occur together. I would also add community and collaboration. Not all value is economic.
mdlbear: (gates-pirate)
Jonathan Schwartz's Weblog: Free Software Has No Pirates
Now, I've heard from a few stockholders saying, "What? Sharing? Free Software? What's up with that! Go make some money!" And so I thought I'd put down, once and for all, why we're committed to sharing, to open source, open standards, and eradicating the digital divide. Ready?

Because we're going to make more money.

How? It's trivially simple. Why do carriers give handsets away for free? Because they make money on the subscription necessary to receive the handset. Why do banks give away free checking, or free credit cards? Because they acquire new customers. Why do Google and Yahoo! give away free search? Because there's a fortune in the end result.

So why on earth would we give our OS away for free?

Because it'll ensure those without the economic wherewithal to pay for it will still consider using it. Companies that suffered from piracy a decade ago now know the lesson well - piracy is a good thing so long as the pirates are folks who could never afford your products. So stop calling them pirates, call them users. Free software has no pirates. As I've said forever, there's value in volume, even if you're not paid for it.

Do I worry about enterprises or corporate customers taking OpenSolaris and not acquiring a subscription to someone's (hopefully our) service contract? No, not in the least. Do you really think a hospital, or an air traffic control authority or a Minister from an African nation would run their institution on unsupported software? No. No way.

Are we guaranteed to get that business? Nope. But we are guaranteed the opportunity will be greater than if we kept Solaris locked up. And I'd rather get 20% of a business that's planetary in scope, than 100% of a business with 17 customers. Like I said, there's value in volume. (And I haven't even touched upon the impact of open sourcing on innovation.)
Sometimes people ask me why I use -- and write -- free software. This is why. Sometimes people ask me why my music is released under a Creative Commons license that allows anyone to download it and make copies for their friends. Same answer.
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
The End User: Sewing up new customers - International Herald Tribune
"My generation's problem is not a lack fashionable clothing, but the excess of mass consumption products," said Nora Abousteit, the hobby sewer of the two women. "We aim for conscious consumers who want to make their own unique clothing items."

To better understand those consumers, BurdaStyle has teamed up to share offices with, a Web site that helps people sell their handmade items.

For Abousteit - who earned money in high school selling hand-sewn hair bands - technology and handicrafts are following parallel trends within a sharing-based economy.

"Ours is an open-source approach to the sewing patterns," Abousteit said. "We removed copyright restrictions and actually encourage people to make money selling their improved versions over our own Web site."

The only requirement for people to use modified Burda patterns is to acknowledge the company as the source.

Removing copyright restrictions from the patterns that made Burda Moden money and fame was a move that required approval from Hubert Burda.

"Instead of opposing the removal of copyright," Burda "drew a parallel between sewing patterns and the music industry," she said. "He said we should not make the same mistakes as record companies did with copy restrictions."
(From Techdirt who also point to their coverage of a New York Times article that points out that the fashion industry gets along perfectly well without patent or copyright protection.
mdlbear: (hacker glider)
MAKE: Blog: The Open source gift guide - Open source hardware, software and more for the holidays
There are hundreds of gift guides this holiday season filled with junk you can buy - but a lot of time you actually don't own it, you can't improve upon it, you can't share it or make it better, you certainly can't post the plans, schematics and source code either. We want to change that, we've put together our picks of interesting open source hardware projects, open source software, services and things that have the Maker-spirit of open source. Some are kits, some are open software projects that you'll need to build hardware for before gifting, and some are just support for the projects/groups that do open source. Included in this guide are things you can get from the MAKE store too (we try and have as many open source goods as possible).
(From EFFector, the EFF's email newsletter.)


2006-11-18 01:09 pm
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

So, I'm in the process of snagging the source tree for TiddlyWiki (which, if you haven't encountered it, is a personal wiki-like "notebook" in a single web page). Anyway, the instructions for getting the source on Mac and Windows each have an 8-step process explaining what to click on a GUI Subversion client.

Getting the source on Linux, by way of contrast, is a single command:

    svn co TiddlyWiki

BTW, the best collection of TW plugins appears to be at

mdlbear: (kill bill)

In a word, "no". At least, not to anyone except the obvious competitor. But I'll get to that later.

Much ink and many pixels have been spilled recently over Oracle's announcement that it will be providing "their own" Linux distribution. In particular, what they'll be doing is exactly what CentOS and White Box do: download a stack of sources from Red Hat, rebuild them without the branding package, and call it "Oracle Linux".

Here are a few articles from InfoWorld that I came across this morning: "Oracle to push Red Hat from support chair" (yes, Oracle will be providing their own, paid support), "Oracle-Ubuntu rumor fizzles" (a lot of observers expected Oracle to simply certify the Ubuntu distribution), "Oracle move a worry for Red Hat" (um... yes; maybe), "With friends like these....(Oracle goes after Red Hat)", and finally this one pointing off to this entry in Dave Dargo's blog at Ingres. Dave "was a longtime Oracle employee and started and ran Oracle's open source program office", and now works for one of Oracle's open-source competitors.

Dave Dargo is understandably skeptical of Oracle's ability to compete with RedHat on the basis of support: "There's a survey from CIOInsight [PDF] that shows Red Hat is the number one vendor for value as rated by CIOs in 2004 and 2005. Where does Oracle fit on that chart? Glad you asked, they ranked 39 out of 41." But nobody seems to be asking themselves who Oracle's real target is.

I'll give you a hint: it isn't RedHat. RedHat has a solid number-one position in enterprise Linux, a solid number-one reputation for support (even if it's a little slow sometimes), and it's really not very likely that any of their customers are going to switch, unless they already want to run an Oracle database server. If they do, they'll be happy to get their OS and their database from the same vendor, and pay the additional 5% for the convenience of getting all their support from the same place. What they get with that support is a guaranteed lack of fingerpointing. As somebody who once bought a RedHat-based server from Dell, I can assure you that that's well worth the price.

So who else makes a big marketing noise about being a one-stop shop for your enterprise database server? Microsoft, of course. That's Oracle's real target. Microsoft, who can tweak their database server and their OS kernel to work perfectly together -- or at least get in their competitors' way when it comes down to running benchmarks. Now Oracle can play that game. Until now, Oracle couldn't offer an "all your software from one vendor, guaranteed no fingerpointing, just runs out of the box" solution. Now they can. It's that simple.

I expect that the impact on RedHat's non-Oracle customers will be minimal. They'll be hit a little more than other distros, because almost all of Oracle's customers were already running RHEL. Maybe they'll be hit a lot more; it's not clear how many of their enterprise customers weren't running Oracle. But RedHat isn't number one anymore, and having multiple vendors in the enterprise (high rent) market can only benefit the Linux market as a whole. Who knows? Maybe it'll convince RH that they should go back to selling $99 boxed sets like they used to do. Because if they don't, Oracle will get all that lovely shelf space in Fry's.

But the hackers will stick to Debian, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Fedora, and Slackware, and probably won't even notice. The IT guys who just want a box at home with the same style of config files as their big servers at work might download Oracle instead of CentOS or White Box. Or might not. Not a problem. RedHat will lose some customers, but if they go back to selling boxed sets at retail they won't lose much, if any, off their bottom line. The big loser, at least if everything goes according to Oracle's plan, will be Microsoft.

And that's as it should be.

mdlbear: portrait of me holding a guitar, by Kelly Freas (freas)
After reading this article at titled "The FOSS community makes new users feel welcome", I was struck by how similar it is to the fannish and filkish community.
After being semi-comfortably ensconced in the world of Microsoft products since the days of Windows 3.0, I recently joined the growing ranks of people who realize the value in switching to open source software. What surprised me most about changing operating systems wasn't the myriad of different Linux distributions (how refreshing) nor the vast control they give users over their systems (what liberation). No, what surprised me most was how friendly and welcoming the open source community has been.
In every chat room, mailing list, and forum -- almost without exception -- my questions and comments have been received with patience, grace, and humor. I doubt I would be alone in saying that the friendly assistance I've received across the board has been the saving grace during some rather trying installation difficulties I've encountered in recent weeks.
See what I mean?
mdlbear: (tsunami)
SAHANA | Free and Open Source Disaster Management System
Sahana is a Free and Open Source Disaster Management system. It is a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs) and the victims themselves.
(From Groklaw.)

Sahana was developed in Sri Lanka (that's where .lk is, in case you were wondering) in response to the tsunami of 2004, and was deployed after just two weeks of development. If you need it, and I damned well hope you never do, you can have it up and running on Linux or Windows in half an hour or so.
mdlbear: (copyleft)
Innovation Happens Elsewhere -- Open Source as Business Strategy by Ron Goldman and Richard P. Gabriel.

If you write software and would like to get your company interested in using and creating open source software, you need to do two things: First: read this book -- it's online under a Creative Commons license. Second: get your company to buy the appropriate number of copies, and scatter them around the executive suite.

Can't remember whether I originally got the link from BoingBoing or Slashdot.
mdlbear: (hacker glider)
And another delibhtful OSCON ends, with a "final snack" in the ballroom lobby. Not terribly well-arranged -- the plates were in the middle and the food on both ends. This left one end blocked as queued-up people scrambled for plates, and one end practically unpopulated. Well, I got my cheese eventually, so I'm happy.

Today's opening keynote was Dave Bradley on "25 years of the IBM PC" -- Dave is the inventor of the famous three-finger salute that we still know and love today. He pointed out that the original BIOS was at least somewhat open source -- it was printed in the technical manual. I remember consulting it in order to tweak the floppy driver to handle odd formats.

Damian Conway's keynote was spectacular and highly amusing, but was basically stand-up comedy rather than anything really useful. But if you see any advertising from a company called CXAP, remember that they have a patent on replacing a consonant in a word with an X while pronouncing the original letter.

Both sessions were useful: "10 tools developers need" from Karl Fogel of the subversion project, and "Livejournal's Secret Spinoffs" from Artur Bergman and Brad Whitaker of SixApart. Some of their stuff for serving ultra-high-volume websites look useful.

The closing keynote was Eben Moglen -- inspiring.

One theme that came up several times -- in at least three keynotes including Damian's and Eben's; I forget the third -- was that Open Source has won. It is now widely recognized that OS is the most effective way to develop software. Proprietary software companies are fighting a rearguard action now.
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

The Emerging Economics of Open Source Software

Many people have trouble understanding how Open Source could be self-sustaining if it does not operate according to the retail development paradigm. What pays for such software? It is funded directly or indirectly as a cost-center item by the companies that need it. Those companies need a great deal of cost-center, non-differentiating software. They are willing to invest in its creation through the Open Source paradigm because it allows them to spend less on their cost centers by distributing the cost and risk among many collaborators, and makes more efficient use of their software dollar than the retail paradigm. This is essentially the same source of funding that pays for proprietary software. It's important to remember that the software manufacturer isn't the ultimate source of funds: the customer is.
(Found via this interview with Bruce Perens)
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Git 1.0.0 released [thread]

Git, in case you've been sleeping under a rock since last April or so (or simply don't care about software), is the new, blindingly fast, astoundingly simple, distributed version control system developed by Linux Torvalds and a cast of, well, dozens at least. The 1.0.0 release is a significant milestone for something that was thrown together in a week or two in response to the withdrawal of the free version of the proprietary BitKeeper VCS.

X11R6.9/X11R7 Officially Released

I started using X11R6 (the "R" stands for "Release") fourteen or so years ago, a release schedule that makes Debian (with a gap of two years between 3 and 3.1) look positively hasty. Now that is under new management and actively part of the open source movement, things are on the move again.

SeaMonkey 1.0 Beta announced.

SeaMonkey is the old Mozilla browser suite. The Mozilla developers have moved on from a huge and ungainly, but unified, suite to separate applications: Firefox and Thunderbird. But some users still wanted the whole package, so the project lives on, under its old codename. Yet another example of the resilience of free software, especially when contrasted with Microsoft's recent announcement that as of January 1 it will no longer be supporting IE on the Mac.

(Updated to add SeaMonkey and to link to X11R7's official release announcement.)

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