Tag Archives: technology

Beware the Anti-Market

A vendor can often be their own worst competition if they create good technology, but put it out in a way that is too limiting, in platform support or licensing, than their prospective users would like it to be. I’ve often refered to this as the Anti-Market among colleagues. The rules of the Anti-Market are more or less as follows:

If you create a technology that is useful, but 90% of your prospective market can’t use it for various reasons, they’ve got a good chance of getting together and writing a replacement for your product.

Example 1: KDE vs. Gnome

Gnome created out the anti market that KDE created. KDE is built on QT. Back in the early days of KDE, QT was licenced in rather funny ways by Trolltech. The funny license meant that Red Hat (and other Linux distros) didn’t want to ship it. Mandrake was originally just Red Hat + KDE to fill such a need. But with the bulk of the KDE user market blocked because of bad licencing, a void existed to be filled. Gnome did that. A decade later Gnome is the primary desktop environment on nearly ever major distro, and while KDE 4 has gotten some recent press, it is definitely now a minority player.

KDE was brought down because it created an anti market. People wanted that kind of function, but the way it was delivered was not acceptable to its users.

Example 2: Java vs. Mono on the Linux Desktop

How many Linux desktop apps are you running right now, or ever, that are Java based? How many that are Mono based? The only Java apps I run on the desktop in any frequency are Azureus and Freemind. On the Mono side F-Spot and Tomboy have seen a lot more use. Until very recently Java remained under a license that made including it with the Linux platform quite an issue. Mono is under an MIT license, and has been since day one. While Mono has a number of short comings, the fact that it’s so young, and so much more used than Java in the Linux desktop space speaks a bit to the anti-market that Sun created by waiting forever to open source their baby.

Example 3: MySQL vs. everyone else

In 1995 Linux was already being used to run key parts of the internet. None of the traditional ISVs were paying attention to it (DB2 showed up in 1998 on Linux, and too my knowledge, was the first big database vendor there). You know what you need to run the internet, a reasonable database. MySQL popped out of the anti-market created by there being a platform people were using quite a bit, but lacking ISV support. People needed the function, but couldn’t get it even if they wanted to pay for it.

I continue to be amazed at how much of an anti-market MySQL took advantage of.

Closing thoughts

The Linux Desktop space is full of anti-market applications, some of which have even seeped back into the Windows world, like OpenOffice, Gimp, and Pidgin. Adobe just made a very astute move and got Air out for Linux before they forced a new anti-market there. While the Linux Desktop space isn’t the highest volume space for users, the developer to user ratio in the space is very high, which means ignoring it means there is a real chance of creating an anti-market.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts or examples here, comments are open, have at it.

Tuning the HD Set

John came over prior to the game bringing his HD-DVD Video Essentials, and given that we had some time prior to the game, we spent some time tuning the set.  Honestly, most things were pretty good, though we had to tune down the color and up the brightness just a bit.  There was one adjustment we made that I can tell immediately made a difference, which was tuning the sharpness down to nothing.  One thing that had always bothered me was how Jack’s beard in lost seemed to shimmer in odd ways, though I was never really sure what caused it.  It turns out that sharpness on digital TVs pretty much just takes the digital artifacting and makes it 10 times worse.  The image looks a little softer now, but there are no annoying random artifacts on thin lines throughout the picture.

Thanks to John for bringing that over.  I still have the kit as I’m going to do audio balancing this week (as we didn’t quite have the time to do it before people showed up).  While my living room is only so tunable, I’m still looking forward to actually trying to balance in the sub woofer in a reasonable way.  I think it will be amusing to see how off my course grained adjustments are.

If only they had power…

Nick and I chatted the other night, catching up on all things life and work.  Nick has kicked off his 4th semester as a professor at West Virginia Tech, adding a new class on open source software development to the curriculum for his students.  Our tentative plan is that I’ll come down late in the spring, hang out for a week, and give a guest lecture on Open Source Development.

I’ve discovered there is an Amtrak line that runs from New York City to Chicago via West Virginia, conveniently stopping in Charleston. I started getting all excited about this idea, until I found the following:

In most Amtrak trains, First Class and Business Class seats and sleepers have standard 110-volt electrical power outlets available to supply power for electronic devices. Very few outlets are available, however, at Coach Class seats.

This train doesn’t have First or Business Class seats. 15 hours of train is much better than 9.5 hours in a car, if I could get work done during it, but lacking that, driving looks like a better option.  If only they had power….

New approaches to CS1

As a professor you get sent new sample textbooks all the time, or so I learned from Dr Nick last night. The “hot” area for these textbooks is the CS1 (or Intro to Computer Science) classes. Computer Science programs have the unique challenge of getting beat up by Industry because they aren’t producing enough new graduates. At the same time Mass Media keeps saying “all your tech job are belong to India”, scaring potentially interested students to the much more secure careers of History and English.

The thing that is exciting about software development is the ability to be creative with a nearly infinitely malleable canvas. The tools for creating software are better than they’ve ever been, and the massive prevalence of Open Source Software makes finding example code really easy. In a weekend you can create a completely reasonable web application with Rails, or a nice client application using Glade. In each case they solve a problem you have, and make you’re life a little easier.

The bad old ways of teaching CS definitely miss this whole point. I’m a firm believer in students needing to understand interesting data structures and what is going on in the memory of the computer, but that doesn’t have to be the CS1 focus. That’s like teaching shop in high school, but instead of letting people build boxes or bridges, having them spend the entire first semester pounding nails into boards until they get it right. As with any industry that has a stigma for boring, you need to show students the creative aspects early in their education.

Back to text books. One of the new textbooks that Nick got was teaching CS1 in Javascript, in a browser. It did all the standard CS1 things about loops and datastructures, but in an environment that students might actually intrinsically care for. Relevancy is key to interest, and what can be more relevant in this day and age than the web browser. I’m sure the purists will loose their lunch over the idea of Javascript as the first language people learn, fortunately lunch is cheap and easy to find.

I for one, am excited about anything that brings more creative and talented people to the field. The current approach of making 18 year olds decide they don’t like software because they didn’t understand inane java syntax in the first 4 weeks that they were in college isn’t working out so well.

To Fios or not to Fios?

For the past six months, Verizon has been spending a lot of time in our neighborhood. I was as likely to spot little tented trucks with big spools of cable spilling out, as deer on my way to work. Every day this last week there were Verizon trucks working on poles. And, as I suspected, it was because they were bringing in fiber.

Yesterday morning the Fios Internet flier went up on every mailbox in the neighborhood. The offer for our area is the enhanced deal, so 10 Mbs down / 2 Mbs up for the lowest level of service, and 20 Mbs down / 5 Mbs up for the next level. Given how often the cable modem falls over, and how while they increased the downstream recently, they decreased the upstream, which is annoying for things like NX sessions to work, photo uploads, and a host of other bits.

I’m still trying to figure out what the phone quality is like, before I make the plunge, but I’ll probably look at switching some time this summer.

More gems from Redmonk: Google Linux Repositories, and DrunkandRetired.com

From sogrady’s daily links post (which I tend to find one new gem in every other day), I found that Google has a set of online repositories for just about every Linux distro out there. What a great way to make sure you’ve got the latest google earth, or any of their other apps you like. (Update: Apparently the repo only contains 2 packages, picassa, and google-desktop-linux. Boo google for not putting google earth in there, which is the only app I really care about at the moment.)

Through sogrady’s links I also came to the drunk and retired podcast, in which cote (another Redmonker) discusses current trends in technology, as well as dives into some technical topics in depth. The discussion of parsers, and Domain Specific Languages recently was surprisingly coherent for trying to explain something like that with audio only. While this isn’t MIT lectures by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a pretty good place to get exposed to technology trends that might be outside of your normal day to day environment.

Build To Order Servers… buy from these people

We got a donation to MHVLUG a year ago, which was a stack of 2U PIII servers that were being decommissioned from a company that one of our members worked at. We sold about 1/2 of them (at really nominal price) to get machines into eager members hands, and raise a little cash for MHVLUG events (like equipment for install fests). The servers had one flaw though, the power supplies liked to commit suicide if you unplugged them. You know this has happened if you plug the box in, and just hear a clicking sound from the power supply, and the machine won’t power on. 😦 The power supplies are an odd proprietary connector (though it breaks out to standard connectors after that) so direct replacement didn’t seem like an option. We swapped out PSU for those LUG members that got ones that broke, until we ran out. At which point everyone was on their own.

This hits home a bit, because I’ve got 2 of these boxes. 1 is serenity, which runs my wiki, but more importantly, my wedding site. That machine is fine. However, my xen test box did the suicide dive this weekend. Ominously, we are out of power supplies, and the site that we’ve got the wedding info on no longer has anything I could steal a supply from. This is not a good place to be in.

So over the weekend I began searching for power supplies again. While we’ll never find the crazy card interface that the current PSUs have, a little further research showed that any long 2U supply should fit in the case. After much time with google I came across Build to Order Servers. It appears that they had a 2U supply that would fit in the box, output 300W (the current one is 275W), and only cost $68. So between me, and the rest of nycccp.net, we ordered 4 of those units. That was Sunday.

Monday rolls around, and I get an email from the Vendor (and, as I found out later, a phone call at home). They are out of the supply I ordered, and won’t get more until July 17th. He does ask me where I’m going to be running the systems, because if it is in the US (where the power is reasonably conditioned), they’ve got an equivalent model which is $10 cheaper. He also asks about what my server board pins are, because the power supply is 20 + 4 pins, and most people order a 20 -> 24 pin converter with them. I respond back to him with output of dmidecode from my server board, plus the fact that it looks like I’ve actually got 24 + 6 pins. A couple hours later he sends me an image of a similar mother board (“is this what yours looks like?”), offering to custom mod the power supply pin outs for 24 + 6 for a small fee, and still being able to ship by Thursday if I’m ok with all of this.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is service. We’re talking about a total sum of about $250 worth of equipment here, and the folks at Build to Order Servers spent a lot of time making sure that I actually got equipment that is exactly what I needed. It’s rare that you see that now adays with all the crazy big box stores, so I am always astounded when someone really does give that much care for their customers.

Anyway, if you are in the market for anything Build to Order Servers has to offer, you should consider them. They went the extra mile for me on a small order, so I can’t imagine they’d do any different for you.

Email is still king

On slashdot a couple of days ago I read this interesting article on collaboration, which I found to be quite insightful. It also strikes pretty close to home, as I’m in process of putting together a paper for an internal collaboration conference, which says much the same thing, that current collaboration techniques like email remain king, and the right solution is not to try to replace them with the next wizbangy thing.

The two most interesting bits I found were:

99.9% of all knowledge workers use email. Understanding and using email has become synonymous with ‘using the telephone.’ Email crosses the boundaries of Language, Country, Creed, Geography and Origin. Everyone has it. Everyone uses it. This is largely because email enjoys the industry standard protocol of SMTP. The “SMTP Pipe” ensures that any user in the world can participate and interact via email, no matter what email client software they are running.

and

Collaboration Software is still difficult to access. This is mostly for good reason as business users are, and should be, concerned with security; but the accessibility of collaboration software often falls prey to the IT department’s insatiable appetite for restricting, controlling and limiting employee access to mission critical tools. To date, even the most advanced collaboration solutions only provide limited mobile device access and functionality.

I’ve run into that last one more times than I care to count over the last few years.