So for Christmas, Tove got this embroidery machine from Santa Claus. Since then, she’s busily been filling the kids clothes with names, re-doing their Tae-Kwon-Do uniforms etc etc.

And why do I care? It turns out that all those embroidery machines can be extended with new patterns, and most of them – including the one Tove has – seem to use this special and pretty much undocumented “PES” format that was designed by Brother. So Tove has been buying embroidery patterns, but actually seeing them on the computer and transferring them to the sewing machine is a big pain.

So the above beautiful png file is what I did today. It’s the result of me doing a thumbnailer for those PES files (and yes, “PES” stands for “PESky”, I’m convinced), so that Tove can see the designs in her file manager as she moves them around.

I can read them (largely thanks to converting a php script written by Robert Heel – which in turn seems to be based on a GPL C# project from njcrawford.com – into C code) and then drawing them and writing the result out as a png out with cairo. Sadly, it seems that the embroidery machine itself sometimes has a rather harder time. When uploading the designs to the machine, a number of them just say “Data Error”, which is very annoying.

I wonder what those embroidery machine firmware people were thinking. No diagnostics, no nothing. If a design is too large for the hoop of the machine, the machine accepts it (no “Data Error”), but doesn’t actually show or use the design – it just silently ignores it.

Whee. Undocumented formats, bad firmware, lack of sane error messages. And did I mention crazy interfaces? The embroidery machine itself shows up as a USB storage device when you connect it, except it for some reason takes about half a minute to calm down enough to be mounted. And forget about the embroidery card reader/writer – that one needs some magic USB driver too.

But hey, if somebody else is fighting with PES files, here’s a pointer to ‘pesconvert‘, my git source tree for that silly thumbnailer that created the above png. You’ll need pnglib-devel and cairo-devel to compile it, but it’s small and simple. And in case you wonder about the source PES file, it’s Jan_heartsdelight.pes, a demonstration PES image from brother.

Thanks to tech like Moblin and Android, netbooks, smartbooks, and smartphones are all the rage right now for consumers, but Linux is also showing up on the very sales counters where all of these devices are being bought.

While there’s no denying the rise of Linux on these consumer systems, there’s been a rather quiet but steady rise in Linux deployments on point-of-service (or point-of-sale) systems.

Retail systems are an interesting niche for Linux… one where the free operating system has historically done well. The demands of POS machines–24/7 availability and environments where they are sometimes exposed to large fluxuations in temperature and humidity–means they need an OS that is more stable than what Microsoft and Apple can traditionally offer.

Store operators have lately come to recognize Linux-based systems as being more suited to for what they need. Not to mention the traditional Linux benefits of being less pricy and more efficient in running on older machines. Combine all of these benefits, and the uptick in Linux POS devices is a sure thing.

It helps that Linux has some very good POS applications ready to go out of the box: Lemon POS, TuxShop, BananaPos, and OpenBravo POS, to name just a few. In fact it was Lemon POS that got my attention enough to check out the trend–one of our contributors was singing its praises in a planning session last week.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Novell has a fully ready enterprise-level POS flavor in their product line: SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service. Novell has recently been talking up the fact that SLE POS has been deployed at Office Depot, National Vision, and Sherman-Williams.

Is Linux the magic bullet for POS machines? There may be a little work to go, but not much. If these POS applications can be easily connected to accounting databases for small- to medium-sized business owners, then the sky’s the limit. We may already be at that point.

So when you’re checking out that shiny new Linux device, take a look at the cash register screen: you may just see a familiar penguin looking back at you.

Although I obviously had nothing to do with Google’s decision vis-a-vis China, having only started working there for  a week, I was definitely glad to see it and it made me proud to be able to say that I work there.  Kudos to Google’s management team for having made (IMHO) the right decision.   Hopefully Yahoo and Microsoft will consider carefully what the ethical implications of their collusion and collaboration with the Chinese government’s attempt to control free speech and the human rights implications of the same.

I have my own opinion regarding the IETF’s decision to meet in Beijing, since as we’ve seen with the Search Engine industry’s attempt to accommodate the Chinese, engagement doesn’t necessarily always lead to openness and goodness.   All I can suggest is that those people who do decide to travel to that meeting be very careful about what sort of message they want to send with respect to China, as well as being very careful about protecting themselves against targetted information security attacks.

To say there was a lot of Linux news coming out of CES last week was an understatement. As I watched the morning TV shows present their inevitable “look-at-what-the-nerds-have-made-this-year” segments from the CES floor during the event, I had the distinct pleasure of turning to my family many times and proclaiming: “See that? Runs Linux.”

It was difficult to contain my enthusiasm. Between Android, Moblin, and other embedded Linux news, it was clear that free and open source software maintained a large presence in Las Vegas–to the point where traditionally hyped players like Apple and Microsoft were left out in the desert cold.

How bad was it? Try this: the HP Slate computer with which Steve Ballmer showed off Windows 7 during his Jan. 6 keynote address? It turns out that HP is apparently already planning an Android version of the exact same device. 

So much for Redmond’s market exclusivity.

The TechCrunch story above also points out a very notable statistic: it reported that there are more than 10,000 Android applications available. With, the story added, more likely on the way given the expected popularity of Google’s Nexus One phone, which had pretty much stolen the show even before CES started.

Meanwhile, Intel announced its AppUp center, a new application store for Moblin- and Windows 7-based applications: the fruits of Intel’s Atom Developer SDK program.

It’s very clear that developers have a clear choice of software platforms on which to develop their applications, especially in the mobile arena. Very few people outside of Microsoft’s offices are publicly looking forward to Windows Mobile 7, and even the venerable iPhone is becoming dented as a reliable platform, as Apple’s continued chokehold on “permitted” iPhone apps and the company’s continued insistence on using a sole US cellular provider is making the iPhone less of a sure bet for mobile application developers.

There’s even a redefinition of what “mobile” even means. The proliferation of smartphones, smartbooks, and tablets at CES gives new meaning for how consumer hardware is going to look. My personal favorite for redefining hardware is the Lenovo’s IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, the 11-inch Intel-Windows 7 laptop that has a multitouch screen that can separate and be run as a standalone Snapdragon-Linux tablet with Lenovo’s own Skylight GUI.

With all of this focus on embedded Linux success, there are those who have asked the question: is all this news good for Linux as a whole? After all, Sean Michael Kerner pointed out last week, while Android is Linux-based, Google’s first priority with the Nexus One is Android, not Linux.

I would have to disagree with this notion, though I can see where it’s coming from.

While it is true that ultimately Google is interested in its bottom line (and as a public company, it has to be), you could also make the same case for Intel’s involvement in Moblin, or Red Hat’s work with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or Novell’s efforts with SUSE Enterprise Linux… and on and on. But to date, no commercial Linux success has proven detrimental to Linux as a whole.

The truth is that any commercial involvement with Linux, as long as that involvement is done with good free/open source citizenship, is beneficial for Linux, regardless of whether it’s called “Linux.” Success brings users, developers, and hopefully revenue for more development, which should bring more success.

This call for concern has been raised many times before (and I have to be forthcoming and list myself among the concerned at times): “will Company X detract from the success of Linux?” It was raised when Red Hat became a commercial success with fears of another commercial operating system monopoly (which can’t happen in Linux). The alarm was raised again when Canonical’s Ubuntu distribution became so popular among desktop users–would Ubuntu eclipse Linux? So far, that hasn’t happened, either.

And now Android is greeted with similar suspicion.

This seems to be a keystone event in the development of any successful Linux project: when it gets big enough to bring out those with concerns about the project overwhelming the rest of the Linux ecosystem. This despite the fact that to my knowledge no Linux project, commercial or otherwise, has ever wiped out its competition.

The simple truth is that free and open source development will foster innovation that all Linux programs can tap into, and thus the diversity will always be maintained. Will some projects fade away? Of course, as developers drop ideas or move on to other things. Like any ecosystem, new things are born and weaker things die.

But the overall diversity of Linux will be maintained and, as we’ve seen in just this past week, that diversity can become even stronger.

Betamax vs.VHS, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray and now DECE vs. Keychest. Can’t the consumer electronics industry and studios cut us a break?

Think of the words “standards war,” and unless you’re a standards wonk like m…oh, never mind…you’re likely to think of the battle between the Betamax and VHS video tape formats.  That’s because videos are consumer products that just about everyone uses, and therefore the bloodshed in that standards war was not only shed in public view, but the some of the blood that was shed was shed by the public (i.e., those that bought video players supporting Betamax, the losing, but arguably superior, format).  Fast forward (pun intended) to the present, and the trademarks “HD DVD and “Blu-ray” may ring a bell Рand that’s no coincidence.

So guess what? Here we go again, but with a bit of a twist this time: it’s not the video players behind the war this time Рit’s the content owners. And grappling with DRM issues is a big part of it.

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I was amused earlier this week by the news sweeping the ether-web about the so-called “GodMode” folder present in Windows 7 and 32-bit Vista.

The news in itself was not amusing: the presence of a √ºber-configuration folder for Windows power users seems a useful thing, I must admit. What was amusing was the hoopla generated by the discovery of a hidden Easter egg in Microsoft’s flagship product, while all the while, a much bigger story remains in play.

Microsoft continues to sell consumers an operating system that needs anti-virus protection.

It’s not like they keep it a secret: if you install Windows 7, there’s three things splashed up on the screen for users towards the end of the process: configure the OS, activate the OS, and get anti-virus software.

To me, there’s something fundamentally wrong with knowingly send out a piece of software that’s vulnerable–so vulnerable that you have to tell users your product is unsafe until they get third-party protection.

I can understand releasing something with unknown vulnerabilities–nothing’s perfect, after all. Even Linux distributors recognize that no system is unhackable, and I’ve never heard one claim that their distro is completely secure–just more secure than Windows. Unfortunately, that seems to be a bar that’s very easy to jump over.

Time and again, it is demonstrated that computer users have traded so-called simplicity for security. The ability to download and install any application with just a few clicks is more important, it seems, than keeping personal and business data private.

This is more than a few hard drives getting wiped: in early 2009, the Ponemon Institute estimated that every time a company has a data breach, it costs an average of US$6.6 million to correct the problem. Around the same time last year, Gartner put out a report that put the global price tag for breached systems at US$1 trillion annually.

And yet, here we are, still buying software that is known to be vulnerable and makes it ridiculously easy for viruses to be installed on the operating system. Or Trojans. Or granting so many permissions to a “regular” user that physical compromising a system is child’s play.

With the wave of new Linux-based smartbooks, netbooks, and phones hitting the market, there are still critics who complain about an alleged lack of features in Linux. Even if this notion were accurate, and I am very sure it’s not, let me put the question to them: why would you rather have the latest gadget installed on your system as opposed to personal data security?

As a group, computer and electronics users need to reset their priorities. It’s not about the nifty toys and Easter eggs you can find in Windows. It’s about what personal information malicious users can find in your Windows.

I believe that time is about to come soon, when the widespread dispersal of Linux-based devices will demonstrate that while no system is perfectly secure, there’s a lot of systems that could be switched to something more secure than Windows at a far lower cost than US$1 trillion every year.

Earlier this week, I noted the fact that the 100 day mark for the CodePlex Foundation had passed (on December 19) without any comment from the Foundation on how they had fared against their aggressive goals for that time period, including the replacement of the founding, interim Board of Directors, with a permanent board. 

That blog entry sparked a call from the Foundation’s PR firm, and an opportunity for me to spend an hour on the phone with Sam Ramji, the interim President of the Foundation, and Foundation Deputy Director Mark Stone during which we covered a lot of ground, including what’s been accomplished so far, what the Foundation has learned so far, how that has affected its planning, and what we can expect to be announced in the short term and long term future, all of which I’ll  report on in this blog entry.  They also informed me that an update press release covering some of the same topics would be made today.  That announcement was posted to the Foundation Web site at Noon today, and you can find it here (as usual, it’s also pasted in at the end of this blog entry).

With that as prelude, here’s what we talked about, and here’s what I learned.

Read the Rest Here

Article Source Community-cation
January 4, 2010, 8:48 am

There’s been a lot of technology predictions for the upcoming year, with Linux playing a big part in the future direction of tech. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to see how some of those predictions will play out: it’s just a mere three more days until the start of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Even before the 2010 CES show starts on January 7, as early as tomorrow, Jan. 5, Google is expected to formally announce their upcoming smartphone, the Nexus One. Nexus One, rumored to be based on HTC’s Passion device, is expected to be sold with complete Google branding and a pure Android platform. More importantly, Google may be planning to sell the device as an unlocked GSM phone, which means anyone can buy the device and then get a calling plan separately with any carrier they want with a compatible GSM network.

Beyond that, as if that would not be big enough news, look for more Android-based offerings–from phones to tablet devices–showing up at the CES event proper.

In the meantime, a new buzzword may be dominant at the Vegas electronics show: smartbooks. First seen from Sharp in November with their NetWalker PC-71 device, these handhelds are, as you might expect from the name, somewhere between a smartphone and a netbook. These ultra-small devices are always connected to the Internet via 3G cellular networks and will provide productivity apps, via their Linux platforms, for users.

Even though this class of device was out last fall, the big reveals will be staged at CES later this week, from Qualcomm and Sharp, to name two manufacturers. With ARM-based chips and Linux as the OS reducing the costs of these devices, analysts are predicting that if smartbooks are accepted by consumers, smartbooks could become real profit generators for hardware makers.

Curiously, there won’t be much competition for Linux-based mobile offerings at CES. Apple isn’t expected to announce its rumored tablet device until January 26, and Windows Mobile continues to struggle with declining market share.

This decline in Windows Mobile is interesting, because it seems to belie one of the main arguments against Linux on mobile devices: that Linux devices are limited in their functionality by their lack of applications.

This argument was most recently framed in a Wall Street Journal article about the rise of smartbooks at CES, which felt the need to highlight a caveat about these devices: “But smartbooks running Linux or its offshoots, such as Google Inc.’s Android, won’t run applications like Microsoft Word or Apple’s iTunes. Early netbooks that ran Linux ran into customer resistance and were quickly replaced with Windows-based models.”

Which is followed up by this rather expected comment: “‘Customers will likely continue to choose Windows netbook PCs over Linux smartbooks for these same reasons,’ predicts Ben Rudolph, a Microsoft senior manager for Windows.”

While Mr. Rudolph may feel his viewpoint a valid one–and we could obviously argue that point–it must be pointed out that he was describing netbooks, upon which Windows (XP, mind you) can actually run. Smartbooks, with their ARM hardware and smaller profiles, are not a platform for desktop Windows offerings, even antiquated ones. In fact, at this time, only Windows Mobile runs on ARM–something that even the One Laptop Per Child project was lamenting back in March.

Now we have a situation where Windows Mobile, which by all rights should have the “best” productivity apps, since its developers have full access to Office application code, is in sharp decline, while Linux, supposedly limited by a lack of productivity apps, is very much on the rise.

The truth is that there are plenty of applications for Linux-based devices, including multimedia players, full office suites, and file management tools that will match or exceed anything on Windows Mobile, and Microsoft knows it. Why else would it attempt to distract the media with a comparison of Linux and Windows on an entirely different architecture?

Right now, the major players in mobile operating systems are Linux (via Moblin and Android), Blackberry, and the Phone. Windows Mobile is becoming a footnote in an arena that’s exploding with growth.

Welcome to 2010: The Year Linux Makes Contact.

Article Source Andy Updegrove’s Blog
December 30, 2009, 8:09 am

As you may recall, Microsoft announced back on September 10 that it had launched a new foundation “as a forum in which open source communities and the software development community can come together with the shared goal of increasing participation in open source community projects.” It called it’s new non-profit organization the CodePlex Foundation, echoing the name of a commercial site, called CodePlex.com, that it had earlier set up to host open source development projects.

Microsoft launched the CodePlex Foundation with bylaws and other governance documents with which I had some issues, and about which I posted some recommendations. But it also publicly stated that these documents, and the initial boards of directors and advisors, were only temporary. Within 100 days, the statements posted at the site pledged, a new Board would be announced. Nominations for the Boards of Directors and Advisors were welcomed, as well as recommendations on changes to the governance documents.

On October 21, the Foundation announced its Project Acceptance and Operation Guidelines, and on November 18, its first “Gallery” (a project area), supporting Microsoft’s ASP.NET, and its first project (supporting ASP.NET Ajax libraries). Microsoft announced that it had contributed a second project, Orchard, to the ASP.NET Gallery on December 9.

But December 19 Рthe 100 day mark Рpassed quietly, with no announcement of a new Board or a status update on the other goals. So what’s up with the CodePlex Foundation, and its pledge to promptly transition into a more independent organization?

Read the Rest Here

Article Source Linux Weather Forecast Blog
December 23, 2009, 11:35 am

Linus has released the 2.6.33-rc1 prepatch, closing the merge window for this development cycle. This kernel has a few features which will shake things up, with dynamic tracing being near the top as far as I am concerned. But, perhaps, the most interesting addition is one that almost nobody expected: a reverse-engineered driver for NVIDIA graphics chipsets called “Nouveau.”

Once upon a time, finding hardware which worked with Linux could be a real challenge, especially for certain classes of machines, like laptop computers. We had especially severe problems with 3D graphics as the result of two separate problems: development on the X Window System went into hibernation for many years, and graphics vendors had little interest in helping the community to develop free drivers for their products.

The good news is that those dark days are mostly behind us. We have a reenergized X development team and much more cooperative vendors; Intel, which employs much of that team, can take a large part of the credit for both changes, but the good works go well beyond Intel. At this point, we have free support for most hardware out there Рthough, it must be said, a good chunk of this code is still a work in progress. We might not have quite reached the end of the tunnel, but the increasing light suggests that we’re getting close.

The big exception to this story is NVIDIA, which still refuses to work with the development community. NVIDIA does provide closed-source drivers, but those are undesirable for all of the usual reasons; this hardware needs to be supported with free software.

The development community is of two minds when it deals with companies like NVIDIA. One approach is to reverse engineer the hardware, figuring out how it works so that a free driver can be written; that is what the Nouveau project has been doing for the last few years. Others, though, say that the best way to deal with uncooperative companies is to simply not buy their products. Why, they ask, should companies support the development community when that community will eventually provide drivers (and buy their hardware) anyway?

The reverse engineering community appears to have come out on top, by virtue of actually having done the work. The Nouveau driver, while not yet being perfect, supports a subset of NVIDIA’s hardware nicely. Some distributors have been shipping it, which leads to the second half of the story.

The kernel community works by a rule which is often expressed as “upstream first.” This rule states that code should be merged into the mainline kernel before it is shipped to customers. Doing so helps to ensure that the best code is in the mainline where all have access to it; it also lets the community resolve any problems with the code before customers become dependent on it. Failure to follow this rule can lead to divergence between kernels and long-term trouble for customers, so the distributors are fairly good about following it.

In the case of Nouveau, though, some distributors have been shipping it for a long time without working to get it upstream. There are a lot of reasons for that, including unstable user-space APIs and uncertainty about some firmware which must be loaded by the driver. But, when 2.6.33 came around, Linus Torvalds decreed that he had waited for long enough. A quick scramble by the Nouveau developers led to a version being put up for merger into the mainline, and Linus took it.

The end result is that the 2.6.33 will have support – at some level – for most of the graphics chipsets available; the biggest remaining problem appears to be the integrated GPUs aimed at handheld systems. Beyond that, experience shows that merger into the mainline will increase the visibility of Nouveau, enlarging the development community and increasing the pace of improvement. This can only be a good thing.

Back in 2006, an NVIDIA manager claimed that “It’s so hard to write a graphics driver that open-sourcing it would not help.” He also said that there was no interest in open-source drivers. The Linux development community, undaunted by that condescending attitude, has proved that it is able to handle the complexity of graphics drivers Рwhich are, after all, only a small piece of the much larger system we have built. Nouveau also shows that there is great interest in free drivers Рenough to figure out how to build them the hard way, if that is the only way available.