Spreading Linux as a Scientific Endeavour

I just read Vlad Dolezal’s blog entry about why Linux doesn’t spread. The debate about the reasons why people don’t adopt Linux and a free open source desktop, has gone on for years. Vlad just dredged up the old its free therefore not useful argument. An easy counterexample are what mobile providers: get a free cellphone, pay for the service. Most Linux/open source companies make money from Saas (software as a service) too. In fact most large scale enterprise deployed software firms, do SaaS or SOA (service-oriented architecture). So while I wish Vlad luck with selling copies of Linux, a far more interesting comment turned up.

One commenter on Vlad’s site mentions their luck with “selling” the idea of a free open source Linux desktop as a scientific endeavour. Linux and software libre started off as ventures of interest only to computer scientists. Look here is a neat little OS I wrote on top of Minix (Linus Torvalds). And look here is a way we can run a UNIX system without NDAs, and restrictions of proprietary vendors (Richard Stallman). It was only until Eric S. Raymond started working on convincing developers and business decision people, that free software named as open source, that Linux started into its present course of wider adoption. A good chunk of open source projects are initiated by academics in computer science and communication fields.

The term open source was invented to defeat the argument which Vlad reiterates. Read Eric Raymond’s book, The Cathedral and the Bazaar for more about the idea behind “open source”. Removing the word “free” helps to lift the semantic confusion around the term free software. And treating the open source eco-system as part scientific community, part computer hobbyist club, and part client-oriented commercial paradigm, will all help remove the negative aura that sometimes surrounds Linux and the open source desktop.

The idea of getting involved in a grand experiment in science, appeals to some individuals. But probably only to those affiliated with academia, or in love with the romantic vision of science. Neither this idea of Linux a child of “computer science love” or any one thing will increase Linux adoption overnight. There will not be any mass exodus from Windows to Linux. However we can lower the cost of entering into the world of Linux.

Far more difficult issues face Linux and the open source desktop other than what Vlad mentions. The open source desktop lacks in ease of use, marketing and third party support. Dealing with these issues, will lower the cost of entry to the open source desktop for more computer users. More about this in future articles.

Finally Peace?

Hehe I hope so. The peace part I mean. Err… I’m getting ahead of myself…

Finished my second exam today, this one being for Programming Languages. Not pleasant, since there was a good degree of Scheme on it. I actually hoped for more of a theory exam but no… mostly Scheme, Prolog, a BNF, and implement pseudo-language question thrown in for flavour. I finished in the expected time, a good chunk of my answers felt weak, so not too happy. None of this means that I will fail the course. So far I have not failed a single assignment or the midterm. In fact I’m expecting a 55-65% mark overall. Nothing to balk at in general. Still I learned alot of what makes a programming language, a language. I learnt about 3-4 new languages: Scheme, Prolog, ML and C++. Overall a pretty good achievement.

On Monday I had my Operating Systems exams like I mentioned. One word says everything about the exam: cakewalk. I got every question, finished a 3hr exam in 1.5 hours, and nearly all my answers were as airtight as… well… think of the most airtight thing… and then take that to the exponent of 100. Oh yeah! I must confess that I am bit of an expert in operating systems, being overexposed to the topic by playing with Gentoo Linux, Minix and reading Andrew Tannenbaum’s Operating Systems books. Yes I read both of them. Anyways I am a bit of a freak in that sense. Come to think of it, many of my classmates consider me to be an expert in a lot of the theoretical-technical part of CS. Being a host for an oversized ego, I neither admit or deny the honour.

Life otherwise has been placed on hold. With one more exam on next Friday, I can finally get back to doing StudentABC work. Since Keith asked me… please, please go visit his site: StudentABC. Its an excellent resource for citations especially for websites. Works near flawlessly for MLA and APA. Heck, I helped do the research and test cases for it. In the near future we will have support for parenthetical citations too. Once I get my lazy butt over there to work on the test cases. And its a totally free service. (Probably should convince Keith to get PayPal though for donations. ;-))

The real progress has come in brainstorming for my novel, Beneath My Icy Cloak. I have come up with a real basic plot, a few characters, and have done most of the research about technology, etc. When I started on the project, I decided to cut out the fantastical “technology” most sci-fi has. I even scrapped all forms of FTL travel. Why? Cause its extremely unlikely to happen anytime soon (read as before the next millenia) and its probably not physically possible. I actually nearly got bogged down on selecting suitable starship drive technology. I finally chose a combination of solar/magnetic sails and nuclear propulsion drives for travel. After some tossing and turning, I decided to keep some warp tech. Yes it helps travel somewhat. But I made it that it is so unpredictable that its mostly used for… other uses. I guess I need a tiny bit of artistic license. Anyways, I have a location, a back story, and now all I need to do is to solidify my skeleton of the story. A select few friends will get the honour of helping me edit it. How long all this will take? I’m not sure. One thing is for sure, I will publish this one. I doubt it will make its way to your local Chapters-Indigo or what-not. But you never now.

Gotta run.