Software Patents are (still) Evil!

This American Life

For those of you who don’t think that software patents are evil, or don’t know enough about the subject, check out This American Life #441: When Patents Attack!

You could extend it to all patents are evil but I’m mostly concerned with software patents, which are probably the number one thing stifling innovation in the technology industry.

If you want more audio content about patents, you can also check out TWiG #106.


The Future of Open Source

Open Source

Open source software has been around for a long time, and I’ve been following it’s evolution for the past 10 years or so, and in that time I’ve seen it grow from a small idea known only to those in the software world, to something much larger, where everyday people like Aunt Tillie use open source software and think nothing of it.

In the past year since I’ve started working more with hardware, and following the great work of the Arduino team, Adafruit Industries, and others, I’ve seen the rise of open source hardware. Take a look at the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Statement of Principles and Definition v1.0 and the Open Hardware Summit site for more info.

There’s a great comment by Chris Anderson, highlighted in this blog post at Adafruit. Here’s just a small excerpt:

This is the classic open source hardware model. Software, which costs nothing to distribute, is free. Hardware, which is expensive to make, is priced at the minimum necessary to ensure the healthy growth of a sustainable business to ensure quality, support and availability of the products. All intellectual property is given away, so the community can use it, improve it, make their own variants, etc.

Go there now and read the whole thing.

This got me thinking that eventually open source hardware could be more successful than open source software. If you remember the old concerns about open source software by the business folks, there was always the question of how you would make money from it. You can sell “Premium Editions” or make money by charging for support, you can hire yourselves out as consultants, and offer customized software solutions for customers… The ideas were plenty. Some worked, some didn’t. There were varying degrees of success.

I see open source hardware as pushing beyond that, taking the existing model and improving upon it. The software? Free. Open. Get it rolling, get the community involved, give it away to everyone. You should expect to make no money with software. Sure, it costs money to create software, but it’s a digital good, and making one copy or 1,000 copies has almost the exact same cost.

Hardware, on the other hand, is a physical good. It’s an object, a collection of parts, or things, not just bits of ones and zeros. Hardware costs money because someone, somewhere, assembled some real world thingamabob.

I don’t want to make it sound like hardware is better than software. They’re both equally important. They both need people to design them, create them, market them, and support them. The main difference is that creating 1,000 Arduino-compatible microcontrollers is going to cost more that creating 1,000 copies of the Arduino software. That’s just the reality of digital goods. Once you have one copy, making a lot more is cheap and easy. (And the shipping costs on digital goods are pretty close to zero. I say “pretty close” because there are server costs, bandwidth considerations, and other issues, but you’re not buying boxes, and packaging materials, and paying shipping companies to move goods.

As for the clones, well, that’s just a part of open source hardware, much the same way that an open source software package has forks of the original. Again, the difference is in the support, but support goes both ways. Since open source hardware vendors typically publish everything you need to make their products, you could certainly not buy from them and either build it yourself, or find a company that makes it cheaper. Cheaper is fine. I’m a fan of cheaper, but I’m also someone who believes in supporting those that create things and add value. If it all comes down to nothing but money, we’re pretty much doomed.

(Next time I’ll talk about specific pieces of open source hardware. See you then!)


Developer Perspective


I’ve come to realize that when I think about some tool I want to build, it’s typically driven by that “scratch your own itch” idea, where a developer does something because they want to solve their own problem. You’ll most often hear this idea attributed to open source software. Often my ideas come about when I think about who controls my data, or the software that I use. I tend to work towards maintaining my own freedom.

But there’s a whole other side… There are developers who develop something, and it’s not because a client hired them to, but because they think it’s a great idea, and sometimes they do follow the “scratch your own itch” idea, but they also think there’s a great money making opportunity worth exploring. Some developers within this realm are fine with creating something, and either selling it off, or letting it die if it “doesn’t work” or doesn’t become popular.

I’m not suggesting that one idea is better or worse than the other, it’s just an observation. I’m really interested to hear what others think…


Infinite Campus

Infinite Fail

So far I’m not impressed with Infinite Campus…

I know, the school year hasn’t even started, and there probably isn’t much data in it yet, and the fact that they misplaced my daughter, and had someone completely unrelated to my family associated with my account (somehow living in my house, with my mobile phone number) is all probably the fault of some human rather than the system itself…

I’m interested to know how much Infinite Campus costs. From my preliminary research, it looks to be expensive. Really expensive. REALLY REALLY expensive. Aren’t there open source alternatives to these things? I mean, it’s not like there’s a need for software like this… it’s only the educational market, how big can that be? I probably wouldn’t mind having my tax dollars used for the development of open source software that pretty much every school district could have the option to use to manage things…

Obviously I’ve not seen the back end of this thing… If it makes life easier for the teachers and administration, that’s a good thing… My opinion is only that of a user. A user who has about 15 minutes of using it. So far… I’m not impressed, but I’ll keep an eye on it. It seems to work for other schools. Maybe it’ll just take time. Hopefully I won’t have to fix things myself like I did with WebGrader.


Interarchy’s Icon

People seemed to enjoy my post Twitter Apps Reviewed where I rated applications based on their icons, and this go-around we’re looking at Interarchy, a Mac file transfer application I’ve been using for many years.


Interarchy was originally called “Anarchie” and this was the icon under classic Mac OS. The small one on the left was all you’d ever see in the Finder, as classic Mac OS didn’t scale up the size of icons at all. I’ve blow it up here for you to see the pixels. Ahhh, icons were much simpler back then…. oh, where were we?


In the center are two Interarchy icons. On the left is the old brown Interarchy icon. I like that one. I like it a lot. At first I thought it was because of the similarities to the old Anarchie icon, but then more I think about it, I think it’s just a well designed icon. After installing Interarchy 9 I got the silvery icon on the right. It’s still a filing cabinet, but I think it loses something. It just doesn’t look as clear and sharp as the brown one. I know brown probably isn’t hip in the shiny Apple/OS X world, but honestly the brown one stands out much more for me. I’ve got a lot more shiny looking white or silver icons than I do brown ones. Still, progress marches on, and the icon changed.


I was still disturbed by the new icon… so much so, that I am actually using the old one on my copy of Interarchy. I thought I should blow them up and see how they look. Well, the brown one seemed to have a size of 512px wide/high, while the silver one was only 128px wide/high. The silver one just looks to soft and fuzzy to me.


Here’s the brown Interarchy icon, at full size. Besides the shadow at the bottom, I think it looks pretty damn good. In fact, this may be one of my favorite icons now.

Interarchy: TNG

Back at the Interarchy web site, we see a new icon, this one definitely looking better than the fuzzy silver one, but I’m still not sure I like it as much as the brown one. Maybe it’s just me…

Sebastiaan de With is the designer who worked on a complete redesign of the Interarchy icons, and you know what, they look good. Maybe the new icon will grow on me, I’ll get used to it, and all will be forgotten. Either that or I’ll just keep using the old icon. :)

(Oh, one more thing… please don’t use plain FTP. It’s insecure. Use SFTP!)