What are you reading? (A book meme)

I'm reading about how more and more people are living western lifestyles so unless we figure out how to use renewable energy sources that don't cause global warming, we're in big trouble. (The first part of the book also talks about how America is indirectly funding terrorism at the same time they are fighting it.) From Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman, the fifth sentence on page 56:

Tom Burke, co-founder of the group E3C – Third Generation Environmentalism, a non-profit green consultancy – likes to put it this way: think of America as a unit of energy.

Right now the world only uses a couple of units of energy (used by the US, Europe and a few others) but very quickly we will be using much much more and we are not prepared to do so in a sustainable way.

Your turn:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open it to page 56.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence on your blog along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

(The nearest "book" was my Kindle which doesn't have page numbers, so I selected the book that was open on it, searched Amazon.com for the book and searched inside the book to find page 56.)


One of the questions I get asked a lot is the "KDE vs GNOME" question. My first reaction is "that's not the issue," – the message I want to send the world is not why GNOME is better than KDE. That would be constraining our message to people that already know and use open source desktops. I can tell you why GNOME is better than KDE in many circumstances and I'm sure KDE folks can tell you about circumstances where KDE is the better solution. And that's good.

GNOME's goal is to create a free and open source desktop. With that goal in mind, KDE is on the same team as GNOME – we are teammates working on free and open source computing solutions. We compete, but it's the friendly competition of teammates, each trying to win the valuable player award and pushing each other to our limits. The projects we compete together against are the non free desktops.

If GNOME has a competitor it's the non-free desktops of the world. I say "if we have a competitor" because I think we'll be stronger if we focus on being a free and open source desktop with a great user experience instead of focusing on our competition. We want to force them to hurry up and catch up with us by creating great projects that work for the user in ways our competitors haven't even dreamed of yet.

Update: I should have also pointed out that GNOME and KDE are working together. We've worked on projects like DBus together as well as planning to hold the GNOME and KDE conferences in the same location next summer so that developers can meet and collaborate.

Why do netbook vendors make their own distribution?

Netbooks are very small, lightweight, cheap laptops. For $350-600 you get a mini-laptop, perfect for surfing the web or writing a quick document. Many of them, as I've pointed out in previous posts, have open source software desktops.

The thing that's disappointing to me is that they all have their own Linux distribution. As a matter of fact, the Eee PC I talk about so much, comes with a custom version of Xandros that is based on Xandros and KDE. (I apologize if in previous releases I made it sound like it came with GNOME. It comes with KDE and a simplified desktop based on KDE. I think the simplified interface is probably quite good for a large percentage of users. And because it has a free and open source solution on it, you can put any other open source distribution and desktop you want on it. Which I think is a big strength. I put a disto with GNOME on it, however I go back to the default option often in hopes that they've fixed everything.) Xandros isn't alone in making a custom distribution. Dell worked with Canonical for a distribution for their netbook. Rumors have it that HP is making their own distribution for their netbook.

So why is this? Why do the netbook vendors make their own distribution? On one hand, I'm glad free software gives them the ability to make their own distribution. On the other hand, I worry that we aren't meeting their needs. (My Eee PC is not perfect whether it's running the standard distribution it comes with or one that I put on it.) I hope over time, as we get more netbooks into the hands of open source software developers, those developers will make KDE, GNOME and Linux in general work better on systems with small hard drives, screens and keyboards. Netbooks, like other mobile devices, have different needs than a full laptop. I hope we can live up to the challange quickly so that users have great free and open solutions.

Sneak preview of my talk next week: “GNOME as the computing platform for the future”

Next week I’m speaking at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference where the theme is “free software for innovative business.” If you are in the area, you should come – the conference is free and has good speakers and lots of interesting attendees.

I know you are traditionally supposed to post the transcript of your talk after you give it. However, any feedback I get between now and then can only make the talk better. Also, the real talk, in person, with voice, slides and a chance to ask questions is very different experience than reading it in a blog and commenting. So I think one does not compete with the other.

Here’s my talk. As always, comments and questions welcome.

GNOME as the computing platform of the future

Often when people talk about open source software businesses they immediately think about companies like Jboss or MySQL, companies that developed open source software products and then had tremendously successful exits. (Jboss
was acquired for $350 million, MySQL for $800 million.) But these are just a few of the companies that are successful because of open source. They are software companies, open source software companies. But many other companies are also doing well because of open source software. Here’s a few you may not have thought of:

  • Supersonic Imagine. They make scanners that detect breast cancer. They save people’s lives. They
    are in the medical business. Medical instruments, not software, and they use open source software (some GNOME technologies) to develop products that create successful businesses and save lives.
  • Garmin Nuvo. Here’s a company that also sells a product solution, not software, although software is
    very much a part of their solution. Their technology is enabled by open source software. Again there is GNOME technology in this GPS device. How do I know that? Not because they contacted GNOME and bought a support agreement. No, all their use of and support for open source has gone through normal GNOME channels, primarily source code repositories and mailing lists or a third party. We know because they made their source code public and one of the GNOME developers looked at it and saw they were using GNOME.
  • Mobile devices. Well, maybe you would have thought about this one. Most of the new mobile devices
    from Nokia’s tablets to school science devices are using open source software on them. In this case GNOME technologies enable companies to build on existing technologies, changing them and modifying them to meet their needs. This way they get to market faster (without reinventing the wheel), build on existing solutions and enable others to cooperate and work with them, enhancing and strengthening their solutions. As an example, when I went to the Maemo Summit (Maemo is the what the software on Nokia tablets is called – it uses GNOME) I saw non-Nokia people present solutions translating for doctors, letting police officers use tablets and some really unique note taking, personal journaling solutions.

I’ve also seen small consulting companies spring up to help larger businesses use open source they way they need to. They might provide assistance or customization or complete solutions.

So all these companies – and many more – successfully use GNOME technologies to improve their business. How does that work? What is GNOME and what about it makes it good for businesses and society?

I think in order to understand what’s important about GNOME, you have to look at what GNOME is and how and why GNOME was written.So what is GNOME? GNOME is … a desktop, a development platform, a mobile solution toolkit, with some key characteristics like accessible, internationalized, easy to use. It’s also a lot of applications from music players to email clients.

Why was GNOME written? To create a free and open source desktop for the world. Over time that has evolved from desktop as in traditional desktop like the machine on your desk at home to everything from your laptop to your cell phone to even your car with its onboard navigation.

How was it written? By the community. Like traditional open source software, GNOME spans from a core group
of committers to a group of users.

At the core we have people that write the source code – the committers. These are the people that actually wrote the project. However, however much work they do, they don’t do it all alone.

The next group is people that make contributions – they make code suggestions to the committers or they may contribute in other ways like marketing or answering questions on the mailing list or supporting the systems or answering questions on the mailing lists.

For example, one of the things that GNOME contributors do is man GNOME booths at conferences. They get an event
box – that was put together by a contributor, man the booth for the conference and then send the event box back or on to the next event.

But committers and contributors are not all there is. There is also a large user base. Users are very important. They spread the word of the project and contribute ideas as well as bug fixes – in a sense they are all testers.

Unlike many open source software projects, GNOME works really well with companies. It’s one of its strengths. Some of the ways we work with companies:

  • Community is open to companies. The community is excited and willing to listen to businesses that would like to use GNOME. When we found out Garmin was using GNOME, many people blogged and talked about it. The breast scanner company was invited to our annual conference, GUADEC.
  • 6 month release cycles. Seems very simple but it’s very crucial to companies and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Companies need to know when a release is coming out that will contain the feature or patch they need. They used released versions, not the top of the unreleased stack. By knowing when releases are coming out, and being able to depend on that date, they can build plans of their own.
  • Accessibility/internationalization. Several of our core goals help companies meet their customer requirement.

One thing to note is that while companies are part of the GNOME community, their participation is different. They participate by building solutions with and on GNOME technologies. They hire people who work on GNOME and become part of the GNOME community and they can sponsor the GNOME Foundation and participate on the GNOME advisory board. All GNOME project technical decisions are made by the community – they have a release team that
runs the releases and what goes in them.

All these people the community – committers and users alike – as well as the companies, have shared values:

  • Accessiblity
  • Internationalized
  • Access to all
  • Easy to use
  • Beauty
  • Working well with companies
  • Having fun

These values are important to creating a common culture. All open source software projects and communities have a unique culture. Some have lots of flaming and arguments, others are very welcoming. Keep in mind that strong communities build strong projects. These shared GNOME values create the welcoming, productive and dedicated community of GNOME. Please come join us as a user or as a contributor.

So where do we go from here? GNOME has a great community, lots of developers, contributors and users. It’s deployed on 14 million systems world wide, it has great foundations, it’s internationalized, accessible, and easy to use and has a good format for working with companies with its advisory board and six month release cycles. So where do we go from here?

We will continue to make our desktop easy to use and accessible to all.

In GNOME 3.0 we will focus on user experience among other things. As people use the internet and web 2.0 apps more, what they expect from their desktop will be different. We need to make sure the world of the internet and your personal device – be it a laptop, netbook or phone – interact seemlessly as you expect them to.

Speaking of netbooks. Netbooks are taking off – they are providing affordable computing to people. Eee PCs along will bring 2.4 million more users to the Linux desktop this year. GNOME Mobile – GNOME technologies are used in many of the worlds leading mobile phone brands. Building on open source technologies enables them not only to get to market faster but to offer cheaper and more open solutions – I believe it is netbooks and cellular phones that will reach most of the world before the traditional desktop. 100% penetration in Europe. Most of the developing country will have cell phones before they have reliable power.

Multimedia. People are changing the way they interact with their computer and they are also changing the way they use their computer. Videos, through sites like YouTube, are extremely popular these days. People have the ability to make their own. Virtually everyone in the developing world has access to a video camera. How many of you have a cell that will take video? It’s replacing tv and pictures. Not to mention music, podcasts, etc.

The world is changing and you need free and open source software to keep up. You can’t afford to develop an application from scratch and you can’t build a business without participation from everyone. Users want to be creative – they want
to interact with their applications. Using GNOME as your computing platform and development platform gives you want you need to build the businesses of the future and gives your customers what they need to live fruitful lives.

2.4 million more open source desktop users

According to Stephen Vaughan-Nichols there will be 2.4 million more Linux desktop users by the end of the year. And that's only counting Eee PC users.

To be exact, according to Asustek,
"The company shipped 2.5 million notebooks in the first half of this
year, 1.7 million units in the third quarter and is expecting to ship
1.9 million units in the fourth quarter, bringing the company's annual
notebook shipments in 2008 to at least six million units." Breaking
that down by operating system, "The ratio of Eee PCs preloaded Windows
XP and Linux stands at 7:3."

That's a lot of people. We need to invite both those people and Asustek to engage with our communities. The default install that comes with my Eee PC 700 still does not have wireless or camera working correctly. That's fixed in other Linux distributions but installing a new distribution requires more technical expertice than your average user has. (As anyone who saw me running around at GUADEC with a half installed distro on my Eee PC can attest to.)

As more and more open source software comes out on devices and netbooks, we need to make sure the vendors and the users are aware of the network of passionate people that are here willing to lend their expertice via mailing lists, forums and blog posts.

Does money kill good motivations?

I get asked a lot about my “Would you do it again for free?” talk. (“Would you do it again for free” was about the question, if you take developers that are working on open source software for free and you pay them, if you stop paying
them, will they still work on open source software?  This was the topic of my keynote at GUADEC, LinuxConf Australia, and SCALE – the talk evolved over time. The next step is to communicate how companies can work effectively with communities.)

I’m working on a transcript for the talk as the slides don’t standalone. However, it’s taking a long time (as I don’t spend much time on it) and I got asked again for reference material. I’m still working on the transcript but in the meantime I thought I’d share the studies I talk about it the beginning of my talk as that’s often what people ask about.

I found the following five studies that explore how external rewards affect internal or intrinsic rewards:

  1. NYC “pay for grades.” New York City is offering financial incentives to students to encourage them to do well in school. Kids are being offered up to $500 a year to take the standardized tests, get good grades and attend school regularly.  Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice is very critical of the plan.  He says that by paying them we may actually make them less likely to want to go to school (unless they are paid.) Instead he says we need
    to figure out why kids don’t want to do well in school.  We need to work at making them internally motivated to do well in school.
  2. Kids & Crayons. In the same New York Times editorial, Barry Schwartz pointed to another study that shows how external rewards can kill intrinsic motivations. This study was done with preschool kids – they were given some special markers.  Some of the kids were given awards for playing with the markers and some were not. Those that got rewards were less likely to play with the markers again and less likely to draw pictures. They associated drawing pictures with earning rewards not with having fun and so were less likely to draw pictures just for fun!
  3. Swiss nuclear waste. In a slightly different twist, a study was done to see if external rewards were more or less motivating than internal rewards from the onset.(Actually, I don’t think that’s what they were studying but that’s the question they ended up answering.)  A few years ago Switzerland was trying to figure out where to put its nuclear waste – no town wanted it.  Researchers went door to door and asked people if they would take the waste in their town.  When they were reminded that it was their duty as a Swiss citizen, 50% of them said ok.  When they were told they’d be paid a substantial sum (about six weeks pay every year,) only 25% of them said ok!  It wasn’t worth the money. [Found in Motivating Crowd Theory from Luis Villa’s post. I heard it was also covered in Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.]
  4. Israeli Daycare. An Israeli daycare also conducted an unintended study on motivations. They were tired of parents arriving late to pick up their kids, so instead of giving the parents a hard time and explaining that their workers wanted to go home on time they decided to start fining parents. Parents saw the fine as sanctioned baby sitting and started showing up late even more often. They no longer had to feel bad about showing up late because they were paying for the service! The scary thing (for the daycare) was that when they removed the fines (because parents were showing up even later,) parents didn’t go back to their original behavior!  (I think the daycare must not have charged enough. My daycare charges a $1/minute and I have to say that’s motivating!  Although I am more motivated by the embarrassment of being the last parent and of making my kid feel bad.) [Dave Neary pointed me to Luis Villa‘s post on this one. I also read about it in Freakonomics.]
  5. Household chores. Motivation crowding theory cites a study that found that kids that were paid to mow the lawn would only mow the lawn if they were paid to mow it.

So the question is, can those studies be applied to open source software? And for that you’ll have to wait for the transcript or watch one of the videos of my talk. (The short answer is, it applies, but money is not as demotivating as you’d first think for a number of other reasons.)