Category Archives: linux

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Adobe: friend or enemy of open source, open standards?

I’m sitting in a session at Adobe Max Europe listening to Senior Product Manager Laurel Reitman talking about what a great open platform Adobe is creating. She refers to the open sourcing of the Flex SDK; the open bug database for Flex; the ISO standardization programme for PDF; the donation of source code to Tamarin, the Mozilla Foundation ECMAScript 4.0 runtime project, and the use of open source projects such as SQLite and Webkit within AIR, the Adobe Integrated Runtime which lets you run Flash applications on the desktop, and the fact that AIR will run in due course on Linux, though the initial release will be Mac and Windows only.

So is Adobe the friend of open source and open standards? It’s not so simple. Adobe is more successful than any other company in promoting proprietary standards on the Internet. It ceased development of the open SVG standard for vector graphics, in favour of the proprietary Flash SWF. Adobe’s efforts may well stymie the efforts of John Resig and others at Mozilla to foster open source equivalents to Flash and AIR. View the slides of his recent talk, which include video support integrated into the browser, a canvas for 3D drawing, HTML applications which run from the desktop without browser furniture, and web applications which work offline. Why is there not more excitement about these developments? Simply, because Adobe is there first with its proprietary solutions.

Adobe is arguably more a consumer than a contributor with respect to open source. It is using the open-source Eclipse for Flexbuilder and Thermo, but as far as I can tell not doing much with existing open source projects within Eclipse, preferring to provide its own implementations for things like graphics and visual application development. It is using SQLite and Webkit, and will no doubt feedback bugs and improvements to these projects, but they would flourish with or without Adobe’s input. Tamarin is perhaps its biggest open-source contribution, but read the FAQ: Adobe is contributing source code, but not quite open-sourcing its ActionScript virtual machine. The Flash Player itself remains closed-source, as do its binary compilers.

Like other big internet players, Adobe is treading a fine line. It wants the world to accept its runtimes and formats as standards, while preserving its commercial advantage in controlling them.

My prediction: if Adobe succeeds in its platform ambitions, the company will come under pressure to cede more of its control over those platform standards to the wider community, just as Sun has experienced with Java.

RM’s Linux miniBook

Palm may have abandoned its Foleo; but others are willing to take a crack at the sub-notebook market. Educational suppler RM has partnered with Asus to offer a Linux miniBook starting at £169.00 (around $300). That’s substantially cheaper than a Nokia N800 internet tablet. Here are the specs:

  • Mobile Intel Celeron-M ULV 900MHz processor
  • 7″ TFT screen
  • 256MB or 512MB Memory, 2GB or 4GB Solid-State Hard Drive, SD card reader
  • Integrated Modem and LAN, Internal wireless 802.11g
  • Integrated webcam, microphone and speakers
  • 3 USB ports, VGA out port

According to the press release:

Students will be able to use the RM Asus miniBook to send and receive email, create and edit documents, view photographs, play videos and MP3 files, browse the Internet, listen to online radio and participate in instant messaging.

It caught my interest because I am constantly frustrated at having to carry a relatively bulky laptop in order to get my work done. So I could be in the market for one of these, though it is aimed at students. Bluetooth is not mentioned, which is a shame as this helps with mobile phone integration. According to this post, based on a preview, Windows may be available as an optional extra – I presume this would be Windows Mobilethis article says Windows XP.

If the category succeeds, of course there will be others like it. Why will this be different than other failures or semi-failures, such as the Windows CE Handheld form factor, Tablet PC, or UMPC? Price, mainly. The mass market is reluctant to buy a sub-notebook when there are much more powerful laptops available for the same or less money. That’s now changing, and at this level it just might catch on.

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Great for debugging: Microsoft to release .NET Framework source

Scott Guthrie has the details. As my title implies, this is great for debugging. There will be benefits for the Framework as well, presuming Microsoft listens when a developer says, “Why does your code do this and not that?”

Is this a big radical step for Microsoft? I don’t think so. Nor does it merit this kind of predictable backlash – Steven J Vaughan-Nichols saying that Microsoft is tempting open source developers to use its code and become vulnerable to lawsuits.

I recall an early .NET briefing in which an IT exec from the Nationwide Building Society (an early adopter) said how grateful he was to Microsoft for sharing the source to the .NET Framework. How come? Well, ever come across Reflector for .NET? If compiled .NET libraries are not obfuscated, you can easily decompile the code. Admittedly you will not see comments, but it is still pretty effective. As far as I know, the .NET Framework has never been obfuscated, so in some ways we already had the code.

I do understand the risks for projects like Mono, which seek to be clean-room implementations, but I doubt they are significantly greater than before. Further, I suspect that if Microsoft wanted to bring legal guns to bear on Mono, it is likely that it already could. Although Mono builds on ECMA standards, it implements plenty of stuff that is not covered by those standards. I have no idea whether it breaches any Microsoft patents; but I would not find it surprising. What stops Microsoft pursuing Mono? Mainly, I imagine, because it is good for .NET and therefore a benefit to the company.

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