GNOME Mobile: bringing the desktop and the internet together

I could go the cliche route: the world is changing.

I could go the proverbial route: we're the proverbial frog in the pot being boiled alive.

Or I could just try to explain what I see.

The browser, the internet and the desktop are merging, and while I think we'll work it out eventually, I think we need to work hard to make sure we work it out with a free and open source solution first. (We need to solve the problem before Apple or Microsoft and make sure our solution is a great one!)

Actually I think the internet has already changed everything and the browser has been playing the go between between the internet and the desktop for a long time now.

Mozilla has been working on bringing the internet to users and because of them users know what this new use model can look like – they've tasted what it's like to have seamless integration between at least the browser on your desktop and the application.

GNOME is working on it. Partially with GNOME Mobile and partially with GNOME 3.0.

While most people outside of GNOME Mobile probably think of cell phones when they think of mobile, GNOME Mobile is really about making the desktop fit the new form factors (phones, netbooks, devices, …) and making it work well with a non traditional user interface. And more often than not the nontraditional user interface is a small screen connecting the user to the internet.

In PCMag Tim Bajarin says:

To stay competitive, Microsoft
will need to adapt the core OS to make it desirable for use in all
devices in the home. The company's edge could be in the way it designs
future operating systems,
making devices talk to each other in ways that deliver powerful
networking and integrated communications. Those features will become
more important to a connected home of the future.

I'm glad that Linux and GNOME have already been doing this for a number of years.

Now I think the next step is not making them talk together but making the parts into one seamless user experience. The average iPhone user probably doesn't think about maps as an application on their phone, a browser and some data out there somewhere. It's just maps. It's there on their phone when they need it. If they have a big server in their home, they're not going to want to worry where dad stashed the movies on the hard drive, they just want to see the movies they have, with all the data about each movie and actor pulled from the internet.

A smartphone user no longer really cares about their operating system, they care about what the phone can do, what apps they can put on it. So it's up to us, those building the operating system, desktop, and applications to make sure they all work together to make applications users want.

So why am I harping on this? Because I see lots of work going into the desktop. I see lots of work going into the browser. I see lots of work going into the apps. But I don't see lots of requests coming from application developers to the GNOME Mobile team. Or lots of conversations happening between different application developers, desktop developers and browser developers.

PurpleslogWe provide GNOME Mobile as building blocks for mobile devices but it won't meet users' needs unless there's more interaction and more conversation between the device manufacturers, GNOME Mobile, the browser developers and the application developers.

Like I said yesterday, it's important we understand the new user model and develop for it.

So come join the conversation. GNOME Mobile is one place. Bringing the power of the desktop to devices of all shapes and sizes.

The GNOME Online Desktop project is another. They are working on bringing internet apps and data to the traditional desktop.

Please feel free to suggest others.

Frog in a pot picture by purpleslog.

Why I know we need usability studies

I was talking to a friend today. A friend that emails, blogs and uses web tools like ebay and paypal. I said, "hmm, that's strange, my browser isn't working. Twhirl is working though." I meant to imply that since my browser was frozen, I was checking my internet connection to see if it was an internet or Firefox problem. To which he responded, "My Firefox at work is working." Sensing a fundamentally different understanding of how things worked I asked a bunch of questions. (From my viewpoint, I had already established the internet was working, so his Firefox could have no bearing on my Firefox, but obviously he saw things differently.)

Turns out, he views Firefox as an internet service, not as an application that displays web pages through an internet connection. The fact that twhirl had internet connectivity did not mean that my other services would work. And all my other services were Firefox services because they all ran in the browser. He saw those services as Firefox services, not web services.

He did not seem to think of Firefox as an application. It was a web service.

So I'm not saying his view is common. But I'm also guessing that if I polled 100 random people on the street, many would not see the world my way and a few might see it his way. As we figure out how the desktop, the browser and the internet work together to deliver a seamless user experience, we need to keep in mind that most of our users will not see those as three separate things. They may see them as one thing or ten things, but they are unlikely to understand how they all interconnect at the technical level.

(And I do think the desktop, the browser and the internet have a lot of work to do to deliver a good user experience. Keeping my mail in the cloud is awesome, using Gmail in a browser window is not so awesome. It should act more like a desktop app, allowing me to open up multiple windows without extra toolbars, stash things on the desktop, etc. But that's a topic for another post.)

So that is why I'm fundraising for a usability study.

Photo by Votemann.

Putting Crucial Conversations to work

Since I recommended Crucial Conversations but didn't really talk much about what it taught, I thought I'd share how I'm trying to apply it in my life.

The authors of Crucial Conversations recommend practicing your new skills with your kids because they are always lots of opportunities. They were right!

Last night I practiced my new skills on my 8 year old and to my surprise it actually worked. (Some day he's going to read this blog and realize what I've put him through!)

I find it really frustrating that you can ask a kid how his day at school was and in spite of the fact that he just spent seven hours there, he'll say "good" and when you ask "what did you do?", you get "I don't remember."

So we usually play 20 questions. (Did you do math? How did that go? Did you read? What did you read? Did you go to art? What did you make? …)

Yesterday on the way home from school (which is a 30 minute drive) I asked how his day went.  And predictably, it turned into 20 questions.

When he started yelling "GOOD!" back at me, I realized I'd hit a "Crucial Conversation". One of the three signs of a crucial conversation is when emotions get involved. So I started applying my new learnings.

  1. What did I want from this conversation? I was trying to "hang out" with my eight year old. Find out about his day. Talk to him. Build our relationship. What I was not trying to do was get him trouble. This is key because usually when he acts like this, he's hiding something bad that happened and I usually drill him until I figure out what it is. But that's never my original intent, it just comes out. This time I decided I didn't really care unless he wanted to talk about it. Learning why he got in trouble was derailing me from my intent of building up my relationship with him.
  2. Make it safe. When people's emotions run high they often don't feel safe. (And the signs are that they turn to "violence", perhaps yelling like my 8 year old, or they "withdraw".) So I told him that it looked like he was getting upset and asked him why. That didn't work – he got more upset. "NOTHING! MY DAY WAS GOOD!" So I backed up and told him I was just trying to talk to him, not get him trouble. (With a lot more words.)
  3. Establish common goals. I told him I was just trying to "hang out" with him and talk to him. And I told him that if something I'd done upset him, I wanted to know what so that I didn't do it next time. Because I wanted to talk to him. (I don't think he was upset about something I did in this conversation but rather something I'd done in lots of previous conversations! Also, there was probably a good chance that he was upset because he'd done something wrong, but discovering that wasn't our goal in the conversation.)

And what do you know? It worked!

I got to hear all about his day. The friends he played with, the marbles that sounded like a machine gun, the general assembly where they learned that their school is going green, …

Photo by T.SC.

The good, the bad and the ugly of busines books

Or perhaps this should be called the great, the good and the ugly.

The Great

CrucialconversationsCrucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High
is a great book. If you have ever had an argument that you've regretted, you'll appreciate what this book is trying to teach you.

The authors explain that when we get in an argument, adrenaline takes over and we don't end up arguing in our own best interests. We forget what we want or how to get it and we focus on winning.

They give lots of examples and tools to try to teach you how to "dialogue" better. Unfortunately, it sounds really hard, almost impossible. (Which the authors recognize and they give you a pep talk and some tips at the end.) I'm going to try to use a couple of their techniques and I'm keeping the book. However, don't expect any miracles here. (Although if I learn just one or two of their techniques I think it will be good for both my career and my personal life.)

The Good

Brazen caeerist
Penelope Trunk is a good writer which makes Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success an easy read. The book was funny, entertaining and usually pretty accurate. Supposedly it's full of controversial career advice for Generation X and Yers but I thought most of it (but not all) was good advice. I'd recommend this book as a graduation present for a new college graduate. Penelope gives lots of practical insights like "What you like learning about is probably what you like to do" as well as advice on interview questions, when to use IM or email and what to do in the case of sexual harassment. If you've been in the work force a while, you might not find it super useful but it's an easy read and you might find a few nuggets.

The Ugly

In the case of The Science of Getting Rich, you'd be better off not listening to the writer's words but rather doing what he did. In this case he wrote 105 pages with 2 inch margins, and a catchy title. And in case you're short on words, he has lots of examples of fillers like "And further", "It is evident", and "The question arises here". And blank pages between each chapter. Then you sell your book on $7.99 on Amazon. For a weekend's worth of work, you might make a few dollars.SS-20090127153948

Note that other people feel differently. My used copy was heavily underlined and highlighted (until page 50) and the book is rated an average of 4 stars on Amazon by 105 people. What I should have paid attention to was the rating distribution. 15% of people, 16 people, rated it a 1 star.

I thought it was terrible and gave it 1 star as well.

So that's the great, the good and the ugly:

Best books for getting started with Linux

I have a friend who just installed Linux for the first time. He asked me for recommendations on a book that would help him get started. I asked on Twitter and got the following recommendations:Twitter-books

When I looked them up on Amazon, this well rated book also came up too.

Any others you would recommend? Or a particular one you'd recommend most, as most people aren't going to buy more than one?

I think there'd be two types. One for a like to read the manual, primarily Windows user and another kind of book for those used to Unix.

Setting up a computer lab in Mexico, how it all came about

Some friends and I are setting up a computer lab in an elementary school in Huajuapan de Leon, Mexico. You can read about our project on a new blog I set up. I'll write there about what distribution, software, and hardware we end up using. (And if you have an old but not outdated computer lying around, we'd love to have it for the kids!)

I thought I'd share here how the project came about, as I get asked that a lot.

When One Laptop Per Child came out, I thought it would be really cool to set up a school here in the US with a sister school somewhere else. My dad said he could work out the Mexico part, but then OLPC had distribution problems, our one computer took months to get to us and I decided to wait. I must have mentioned the idea at SCALE last year because I met Dan Anderson there, a high school computer science teacher in Los Angeles. He wrote his email address on a piece of paper and told me he'd be very interested in helping.

Then, luckily for the project, Dan followed up with an email a few months ago. It was perfect timing – my parents had moved to Huajuapan de Leon just a few months before. I said, hold on, I think we can make this work. I then waited impatiently for my dad to call me (he calls me with Skype.) Dad checked in with his friend Blanca, a high school teacher, and they found an elementary school that was perfect. The school "18 de Marzo" has primarily Mixtec students and they were really anxious for computers. The parents and teachers had chipped in and build a room for computers but then the computers had never come. The students have no access to computers at home or at school and aren't well prepared for using them when they get to middle school or high school. Most of them don't graduate from high school. (The school doesn't even have a phone line at the moment. No air conditioning either.) At the same time, I called my friend Ragavan Srinivasan who I'd been talking to about this type of project for a while. We've since been joined by several others like Alex Mayorga Adame (and I'm excited to have another person translate while we're there) and my friend Serena Robb who knows the world of non-profits and social services well. Arthur Langham, one of my college friends, sent us our first computer donation and since then we've got a few others. We're looking for at least 20 computers with hopefully some laptops for the teachers.011

Christian Einfeldt has given us a lot of info on his experience setting up free and open source computers in a school and has done intros to a lot of others.

So that's how it all got started. Hopefully we'll be shipping computers down in April (we have a customs free way to get them to the school system – just need money for shipping) and we'll all head down in June to set up the lab. School will still be going on in Huajuapan so we'll get to meet the teachers and students. Then the plan is to repeat it all next year with another school!

(So if you have an old but not outdated computer, we'll take it! Send me an email at stormyscorner at gmail dot com and I'll send you info.)

Amazon adds e-books: reading your physical books online

If you buy a physical book on, you now have the option to pay (extra) for an electronic version to read on your computer. It’s called Amazon Upgrade.

As far as I know they haven’t done much advertising or publicity. I ran across the new read online option when looking at the Amazon page for a book I’d already bought:

It was only available for two books I had bought (and I’ve bought a lot of books.) One was priced at $1.89 and the other was $2.19. (This is in addition to what I originally paid for the books.)


I bought one just to see what it was like. You get to read the book in Amazon’s Online Reader, which looks like the same software used for  their “search inside this book” option. There didn’t seem to be any way to transfer it to my Kindle or to download it in any format. You could print a page at a time.

It looks like they scanned the actual book, as some of the pages are a bit crooked.

Having all the books I’ve read available to me online at any time is very intriguing. (That’s why I found BKRPR, a program to help you make electronic copies of all your books intriguing, but I wasn’t interested in investing all that time.)

And once again, I think it’s a brilliant business move from Amazon for two reasons.

  1. I’m much more likely to buy textbooks, nonfiction books and anything I think I might need as a reference from Amazon now, since I’ll be able to easily look things up in the future – even if I no longer have the book. (And the ability to search is awesome, especially when it comes to things like textbooks!)
  2. If I decide to reread a book, it’s cheaper to pay $2 for an electronic copy from Amazon than it is to use one of my credits on Paperbackswap. (I paid postage on a book for that credit.)

Now if only they’d let me download these books to my Kindle, allow me to view my Kindle books online, and make copies in different formats …

What do you think? Are you more likely to buy a book from Amazon knowing you can read it online? Do you think you’ll buy online versions for any of the books you’ve bought from Amazon?

You get what you measure. What my treadmill taught me about metrics.

Everyone knows that you get what you measure. But what my treadmill taught me is, you get what you measure whether you have goals or not!

I decided to start running again and I set three guidelines or goals for myself:

  1. Run everyday.
  2. Run 3 miles a day.
  3. Run on the treadmill.

I decided it had to be on the treadmill because when I run outside I have a tendency to start walking if I start thinking about anything interesting. (Hey, my brain needs that oxygen!)

But running on the treadmill turned out to be really good for another reason: I track those numbers, I measure those numbers, I compete with those numbers. Because my treadmill tracks time elapsed, speed, heart rate and average speed, I do my best to make those numbers better. Not because I have a goal set for them but just because they are there. If I'm going to look at those numbers, I'm going to make those good numbers.

So because those numbers are staring at me, I've created my goals for speed, heart rate and average speed. And every time I run, I work really hard to make those numbers better than the last time.

So if you want to make sure things get done, make sure you are measuring the numbers that you want to improve. If you want lots of Friends of GNOME, don't just say you want to raise $20,000 in 2009. Publish how many people have signed up, how much you have raised and update those numbers frequently in a prominent place. (And think about whether you want lots of people or lots of money or both because whichever one you measure, you'll get.)

P.S. And I should point out that since my goal was 3 miles/day, I only run 3 miles. Never 4. Another thing to think about when setting goals.

Photo by buzz.bishop.

What do I do as Executive Director of GNOME?

I get asked a lot what I do, exactly, as executive director of the GNOME Foundation.

First off, I want to say I’m really glad I work for an organization where people feel comfortable asking “what do you do?” It shows they care about the organization and are not afraid to ask tough questions. Have you ever asked your boss what they did, exactly?

Secondly, I have to admit that when I first got asked, that first day on the job at GUADEC, I wanted to go “I don’t know!! What do you think I should be doing?” (I did ask the “What do you think I should be doing part” of a few people and I’m always interested in hearing anyone’s answer to that question.)

Ok, so to the point, what do I do? I’m going to answer in three parts.

  • First, the things I think I should be doing, the things I was hired to do.
  • Second, a sampling of what I worked on in the past week.
  • Third, a whole list of things I think need to be done and I’d like to work on.

My “Job Description”

Here’s a picture I drew a long time ago about how I see my job:

(Obviously I was not hired for my artistic talents, great as they are!)

I think of my job as having five parts.

  1. One is to be the eyes and ears for GNOME. Part of it is just to be the person that people can come to, not so much as a representative of the community, but as the interface for the community–a single point of contact as well as someone who attends conferences and does things like this to promote awareness of GNOME.
  2. Fundraising. This has two parts.
    First is working closely with our sponsors. The GNOME Foundation is funded by donations from volunteers as well as large donations from our corporate sponsors. Part of my job is finding new ones and working closely with existing ones to make sure that their relationship with GNOME is a good one and that the Foundation offers what they need.
    The second is finding new fundraising opportunities. Like our recently launched Friends of GNOME that enables you to sign up for small monthly donations. (That wasn’t just my idea by the way. I’m glad we have it – the FSF’s program is extremely successful. If our community can duplicate that success, you will see the GNOME Foundation grow tremendously. So sign up and spread the word!)
  3. Along with that comes marketing. We have a marketing team, but part of my job is to figure out what we want to do with GNOME marketing and help set up the infrastructure so that people can help work on marketing. Check out my lists below – there’s lots of marketing stuff on it.
  4. Business development. What opportunities should we be pushing for, what should we be watching for, where could we make a move? This is why I’m involved in GNOME Mobile. There’s a huge opportunity for GNOME in the mobile space and we have to act now. I also think we need to take a more aggressive stand. Aggressive is not the right word. Perhaps holistic. We have to stand for free and open source on the mobile platform – not just pieces of it but everything people need – like we do on the desktop.
  5. Housekeeping. (That’s the broom in the picture, by the way.) Part of my job is helping to make sure the day-to-day stuff happens. We have a lot of things going on in GNOME with lots of people working on multiple projects and lots of ideas floating around. One of my jobs is to help make sure good ideas get done and have the resources they need. That’s pretty much what I did with Friends of GNOME. The idea was there, people were willing to work on it, I just pushed a bit. (Luckily we also have Rosanna!)

A sampling of what I do (work-wise that is)

Here’s some of the things I’ve done in the past week:

  • Emailed each of our corporate sponsors with an estimate of money we’ll be requesting from them in 2009. Asked how and when they’d like to receive requests for invoices and if they had any suggestions about the plan.
  • Had the GNOME Advisory Board meeting. We did a roundtable and asked what people were working on in GNOME in 2009.
  • Helped launch Friends of GNOME. Yeah! (Have you signed up yet?) Sent out email to all the press people I know to let them know about it.
  • Talked to a company who would like to sponsor the GNOME Foundation. They invited me to meet with their architectural committee and asked for the brochure. (Added that to my marketing wish/todo list.)
  • Worked on the Desktop Summit sponsor brochure with a couple of the KDE folks. Figured out who was going to approach which companies about sponsoring the Summit/GUADEC/Akademy.
  • Set up meetings for next week with most of our corporate sponsors to touch base and get their feedback. (Still have a few meetings to set up.)
  • Gave a talk at the Denver JUG. The talk wasn’t about GNOME but I saw it as a chance to spread the word about open source, enabling open source fans to use more in their companies. Also put in a plug for Friends of GNOME and got to explain to quite a few people what GNOME was exactly. (Did I mention we need some more marketing?) I spent quite a bit of time preparing the talk – I very much believe if you are going to use an hour of 40 peoples’ time, you should use it well.
  • Had a call with the KDE and GNOME boards about how we are handling the finances for the Desktop Summit. Got our attorney to review the written draft.
  • Spent a few minutes thinking about what I would like to see in the desktop/netbook track of the OpenSource World conference. (I’m organizing the desktop/netbook track. Let me know if you have good ideas for speakers, including yourself.)
  • Joined the GNOME accessibility team meeting to talk about what our two interns in the FOSS Humanitarian program will work on this summer.
  • Exchanged an email about the MBA/marketing/business development internship program I’d like to get started.
  • Read, answered, participated in an incredible amount of email, IMs, Twits and IRC chats. (And I think these are an important part of getting my job done, so I try never to complain about having too much email because I wouldn’t really want less. I just try to be as effective as possible with my communications.)

Things I’d like to see get done (by me or others)

I’m not going to elaborate on them since each one could be a post (or set of posts) all in themselves.

  • GNOME Marketing 2009 goals – a list of all the marketing stuff we’d like to do but more importantly clear goals and priorities.
  • A marketing/business development internship program. We have interns that write code, why not interns that help with marketing tasks?
  • GNOME Foundation sponsorship brochure for corporate sponsors.
  • A GNOME merchandise store.
  • Storyboards and slides. Lots of different slides that lots of different people could use to talk about GNOME in different ways and different venues.
  • Fundraising contacts. I’m trying to reach out to more of the mobile and netbook vendors.
  • Fundraising “marketing”. How do we spread the word, use social networks, get ads, etc?
  • Usability study. I mention it a lot, other people mention it a lot. I did exchange email this week with a usability company that might be willing to help us out at a greatly reduced cost if we share results and publicity.
  • System administrator. We’d love to hire a part time system administrator. We need a few more regular corporate sponsors to feel comfortable with this. (Or more committed income from the sponsors we have.)
  • Setting up a SugarCRM-like system to track Foundation stuff. (Dave Neary got SugarCRM to agree to give us a free account which is why I mention them.)
  • Making sure we are on the right track with GNOME Mobile.
  • ….

So, that is what I do as executive director of the GNOME Foundation. What would you like to see me do?

5+ ways to make women feel welcome at technical events

Someone approached me recently and said their female friend had a bad experience at a technical conference and was never going back. He wanted to make sure that her experience didn't happen to anyone else. So I've been thinking about it.

Women at technical conferences. There's not too many of us. But every year I see more. I'd like to see even more. I think we're missing out on a lot of great people.

So here's my advice. Take it or leave it. Or leave your own advice.

To women:

  • You'll feel awkward sometimes. Don't worry. Believe me, most of the guys are feeling awkward too. Just ask them. It's awkward to be in a room with several hundred other people who you think you may know from online but you don't know what they look like … or maybe you met them last year or the year before and you can't remember their name. Or they're all talking about this cool project that you never heard of …
  • Talk to the person next to you. I've met lots of interesting people this way. Only about 1% look at me like I'm crazy.
  • If you feel like you're being hit on, just make it clear you're not on the market. Talk about your boyfriend or your kids. But don't run away. They'll still be friendly. (I've actually had this happen in reverse! Someone very specifically mentioned his wife in a way that made me wonder if he thought I was hitting on him! I filed it away as a useful technique.)
  • If someone invites you to a party, they probably aren't explicitly hitting on you. There are lots of parties at technical conferences and they are a great place to meet other people and talk about those cool ideas … go!

To men and women who already go to technical conferences:

  • Make women feel welcome. (Make all newbies feel welcome.) Talk to them.
  • Introduce them to other women. (Don't go around looking for women and say, "here, I'll introduce you to other women.") But if you see the opportunity, go for it. Introduce the other woman and tell them what she works on. I think 90% of all women not returning to a technical event because of some awkward situation could have been avoided if they'd just had other women to sit with, chat with, etc.
  • Don't hit on them at first. Become their friends first. Get to know them. Make sure they have other friends at the conference. Then if you hit on them, there's a chance you can still be friends if they say no. There's a chance they'll come back next year too.
  • Talk about your project. Introduce them to others and talk about what they do. Not only is it interesting and gives them a sense of the community but it also gives them something to ask questions about.
  • Tell newbies about where people are going for dinner or what parties are happening. Invite them to dinner and make it clear it's a group thing.

Anything else?

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