Category: Open Source

Firefox 3.0b4 review

Firefox 3.0b4 was released overnight and it is a significant improvement over the already superb 3.0b3!

The browser space is really improving of late, what with the release of the surprisingly good Internet Explorer 8 beta, the nightly Webkit releases, and now Firefox 3.0b4.

I ran Firefox 3.0b4 through the Sunspider browser speed test and it completed the test in an amazing 4,683.6ms on my OS X MacBook Pro! That is spectacular performance compared to the already extremely zippy Webkit which comes in at 5,744.8ms and Firefox 3.0b3 which comes in at 9,822.4ms. Flock 1.09 lags waaaaaay behind at a laggardly 16,945.0ms

On trying the Acid3 test (Firefox 3.x passes Acid2) it scores a creditable 65/100, up from 61/100 for b3 but still seriously lagging behind Webkit’s 87/100.

The full release notes comprehensively detail the many updates in this beta version of Firefox and are well worth a scan. Noteworthy improvements include:

  • Improvements to the user interface: better search support in the Download Manager, ability to zoom entire page or just the text, continuing look and feel improvements on Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS X and Linux.
  • Richer personalization through: location bar that uses an algorithm based on site visit recency and frequency (called “frecency”) to provide better matches against your history and bookmarks for URLs and page titles, as well as an adaptive learning algorithm which tunes itself to your browsing habits.
  • Improved platform features such as: support for HTML5’s window.postMessage and window.messageEvent, JavaScript 1.8 improvements, and offline data storage for web applications.
  • Performance improvements: changes to our JavaScript engine as well as profile guided optimization resulted in significant gains over previous releases in the popular SunSpider test from Apple, web applications like Google Mail and Zoho Office run much faster, and continued improvements to memory usage drastically reduce the amount of memory consumed over long web browsing sessions.

I have been using Firefox 3.0 as one of my main browsers (along with Webkit) since 3.0b1 and despite the warnings

Firefox 3 Beta 4 is a developer preview release of Mozilla’s next generation Firefox browser and is being made available for testing purposes only

I have found it to be rock solid and a much better browsing experience than Firefox 2.x

The only downside to Firefox 3.0bx is the lack of working plugins but once you try it for a couple of days, you will find it difficult to go back to Firefox 2.x – even with all your plugins!

Microsoft embracing 'Open' – can a leopard change its spots?

In a surprise announcement yesterday, Microsoft vowed to increase the openness of its key products!

Yes this is still February, April 1st is several weeks away yet!

So what did Microsoft say in this release? Well,

Specifically, Microsoft is implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities

Several times in the last few years I have advocated for Microsoft to Open Source Windows and Internet Explorer and while this announcement doesn’t go that far, it does seem to be a step in the right direction.

According to Microsoft’s CEO-in-waiting and current Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie

“Customers need all their vendors, including and especially Microsoft, to deliver software and services that are flexible enough such that any developer can use their open interfaces and data to effectively integrate applications or to compose entirely new solutions,” said Ozzie. “By increasing the openness of our products, we will provide developers additional opportunity to innovate and deliver value for customers.”

The Microsoft products this refers to are Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products.

The full documentation of the Interoperability Principles can be found on the Microsoft Interoperability site.

Apart from any great desire on Microsoft’s part to start playing nice with all the other kids on the block, a big driver for this move is Microsoft’s need to fulfill the obligations outlined in the September 2007 judgment of the European Court of First Instance (CFI).

“As we said immediately after the CFI decision last September, Microsoft is committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure we are in full compliance with European law,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel. “Through the initiatives we are announcing, we are taking responsibility for implementing the principles in the interoperability portion of the CFI decision across all of Microsoft’s high-volume products. We will take additional steps in the coming weeks to address the remaining portion of the CFI decision, and we are committed to providing full information to the European Commission so it can evaluate all of these steps.”

Things do look good when you hear Bill Hilf (Microsoft’s general manager of Windows Server Marketing and Platform Strategy) saying things like:

Long-term success for Microsoft depends on our ability to deliver a platform that is open, flexible, and provides customers and developers with choice. These choices include Microsoft and open source technologies working together, and this will continue to be the case in the future. By increasing the openness of high volume products across APIs, protocols, and standards, we can continue to provide the platform that offers developers and businesses, including those based on open-source technologies, the broadest range of opportunities to innovate, deliver value, and create seamless experiences for end users.

Although the announcement makes specific mention of Windows Vista, I am not sure if it includes Internet Explorer. Given Opera CTO HÃ¥kon Wium Lie‘s recent valid criticisms of Internet Explorer, it would obviously be good for everyone if Microsoft reversed course on Internet Explorer, took some of Lie’s advice and included it in this initiative.

Is Skype bucking the Open trend?

This open stuff is really taking off!

Google announced Android, their open source mobile phone platform, OpenID 2.0 has been launched and even AT&T are announcing that they are Opening their networks!

Against that backdrop I was surprised to hear today that Skype have decided to eviscerate their Skype Developer Program (SDP). The SDP is responsible for Skype’s APIs.

Paul Amery, the director, Lester Madden, Product manager, Romain Bertrand and others from marketing were all reportedly axed today. In one fell swoop Skype appears to have culled half of the developer program.

This would appear to be related to the Niklas’ departure. The new management obviously want to send out a message to developers that “We are not interested in Open dev”

Obviously Skype know something about the folly of building extensible platforms that eludes the rest of us!

UPDATE: – I see Andy Abramson has picked up on this story too.

Ubuntu 7.10 DNS issue

Ubuntu 7.10 (aka Gutsy Gibbon) has a DNS-related bug.

I referred to it when I posted about having upgraded to 7.10 last week but since then I have found how to get around it.

First the problem –
After the upgrade, browsers, mail clients and other Internet-related applications run very slowly. Loading pages in Firefox can take 30+ seconds and sending/receiving emails seems interminable too.

On inspection, the Network settings seems to forget any custom settings (I had pointed it at the OpenDNS servers). Adding the OpenDNS servers to the router’s settings didn’t help. Re-adding the DNS servers to the Network Settings helped for about five minutes when it would once again lose the configuration and slow down.

Checking the Ubuntu forums I discovered that this appears to be related to IPv6.

I tried the following suggestion and it fixed the problem for me straightaway:

  1. IPv6 is supported by default in Ubuntu and can sometimes cause problems
  2. To disable it, open a Terminal (Applications > Accessories > Terminal) and type the command: gksudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/aliases
  3. Find the line alias net-pf-10 ipv6 and change it to read alias net-pf-10 off
  4. Reboot Ubuntu

Everything is zinging along happily on my laptop once more!

Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) launched

Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) launched yesterday. Ubuntu is a linux distribution with a focus on desktop systems and usability. It issues major releases at pre-scheduled six monthly intervals.

I installed the previous version of Ubuntu (7.04) on one of my laptops recently and was very impressed with its performance and stability.

The update from 7.04 to 7.10 was completely painless – it was a one button click in the Update Manager!

The new version has lots of tweaks and newer versions of applications but it also has eye candy visual effects built-in (System -> Preferences -> Appearance -> Visual Effects:

http://www.youtube.com/v/iUg19CckiyI

I have had one problem with 7.10 so far and that is that it won’t remember my DNS settings. I’m not sure why that is or if it is only me. I normally use OpenDNS for my DNS – it is annoying to go back to Eircom’s significantly slower DNS servers after using OpenDNS servers for so long now.

Microsoft Licensing blog

Via Martha Rotter’s blog (Martha is Rob Burke‘s replacement in Microsoft Ireland and I bet she hates being introduced that way!), I see that Microsoft Ireland have started a Microsoft Licensing blog.

This is a great idea because licensing Microsoft’s software correctly in any kinds of numbers is unbelievably complex. I often wonder if it is made this way purposefully so that Microsoft can maximise on profit while at the same time Microsoft can say to customers “but if you only took the licensing scheme hidden under all this complexity you could save all this money”! That’s my cynical side coming out again 🙂

Of course, using software licensed under a GPL is far simpler and there are no license fees to worry about!

Microsoft will Open Source Windows (or die!)

I have said on a number of occasions that Microsoft should Open Source their Windows Operating System (and their Internet Explorer).

However, it bears repeating.

I realise it is unlikely to happen in the near term but, I firmly believe it will happen in the not-too-distant future (when Microsoft realises that they can’t compete with Open Source).

If you take it simply from a numbers perspective, Microsoft has 70,000 employees. If we say 40,000 are actively programming code for Microsoft (the rest being admin, management, marketing, etc.) then you are looking at a maximum of 10,000 who would have contributed to the development of Vista, Microsoft’s current Windows incarnation. I suspect the number is lower.

Vista is estimated to have cost Microsoft $10 billion and six years to develop and they still shipped a fairly shoddy product.

Presumably Microsoft will want to re-coup that investment before it even thinks about Open Sourcing Windows.

Compare that with the various Linux distros. It is estimated that around 100,000 people have contributed to Linux’ development! I recently installed Ubuntu on my laptop and it simply blows Vista away in terms of performance and reliability.

Why are Ubuntu and the other Linux distros so good?
Lots of reasons but a few jump out:

  1. With open source development, you are getting the “Wisdom of Crowds” – the more people involved in the development, the better the end-result
  2. Open-source development is peer reviewed so bugs are caught earlier in the process and any which make it into a release are fixed quickly
  3. In open source projects the code is written by people who self-select for jobs they have an interest/skillset in
  4. Feel free to add more in the comments!

The upsides for Microsoft of open sourcing Windows are myriad, for example:

  1. If/when Microsoft open source Windows, their Windows piracy concerns will suddenly disappear
  2. Microsoft drastically improves its reputation as an anti-competitive bullying monopolist
  3. The next operating system they write would cost a fraction of the $10bn spent on Vista and would be much higher quality

The economics of Open Source are counter-intuitive. IBM spends around $100m a year on Linux development. If the entire Linux community puts in $1 billion worth of effort and even half of that is useful to IBM’s customers, then IBM gets $500m of development for $100m worth of expenditure.

If Microsoft could, in one fell swoop, get rid of their Windows piracy concerns, write better quality software, improve their corporate image, and radically reduce their development costs, do you think they would do it?

Are IBM, Google and Sun ganging up on Microsoft?

I see IBM are now jumping into the free Office software arena by launching IBM Lotus Symphony.

IBM Lotus Symphony is a free download from the IBM site (registration required).

Up until now, Microsoft’s competition in this space has come from OpenOffice and Google – neither of whom have a strong track record in the Enterprise Office space! The entry of IBM into this space is game changing.

As well as making Symphony free for download, IBM are also committing 35 developers to the OpenOffice development project. Again conferring the the IBM seal of approval on OpenOffice suddenly marks it up for serious consideration by larger companies.

Seen in light of these recent announcements, Microsoft’s recent move to capture the student market for Office begins to have an air of desperation about it!

Ubuntu first impressions

Using Wubi, I installed Ubuntu onto my Vaio laptop over the weekend (Ubuntu is a Linux distro – an open source operating system).

Apart from some nervousness on my part about losing any info from my Windows partition, the install was completely painless.

Ubuntu Screenshot

The interface is really slick – it is obvious that lots of time and thought went into the look and feel of this OS.

It is also incredibly fast (despite being installed into a single file in the Windows partition as opposed to a normal install). From a standing start to being able to open a web page Vista took four minutes thirty seconds on this machine. Ubuntu took one minute fifty seconds on the same machine.

I’m trying out Evolution now (email client) and I will start trying other apps as well to see how they compare. For now though, I am impressed.

Backup software for Vista?

I want to install a copy of Ubuntu on my laptop.

However, when Vista was installed on it, a single partition was made of the hard drive so if I try to install Ubuntu now, it will overwrite the Vista partition (I assume, anyone knowing better, feel free to jump in!).

I presume that what I need to do is backup my Vista install, partition the drive into one partition for Vista and one for Ubuntu, restore the Vista into its partition and install Ubuntu into its partition.

Can anyone recommend software to allow me to backup my Vista install (including all my installed apps and settings), so that I can restore it again later.

In case it is relevant, I don’t have a floppy drive for the laptop.

Update – since posting this I came across Wubi – an Ubuntu installer which installs Ubuntu into a Windows partition. This could be an easier solution. I’ll try that and see how I get on.