Open source magic all around the world

Featured image: Anders Jildén | Unsplash

Last week brought us two interesting events related to open source movement: 2015 Red Hat Summit (June 23-26, Boston, MA) and Skeptics in the pub (June 26, Rijeka, Croatia).

2015 Red Hat Summit

Red Hat provided live streaming of keynotes (kudos to them); Domagoj, Luka and I watched the one from Craig Muzilla where they announced partnership with Samsung. We made stupid jokes by substituting FICO (a company name) for fićo (a car that is legendary in the Balkans due to its price and popularity). Jim Whitehurst was so inspired he almost did not want to speak, but luckily spoke nonetheless. The interesting part was where he spoke how the predicted economics of information revolution is already coming true.

opensource.com cat
Cats are always welcome. Open source cats even more. (Image source: opensource.com Flickr.)

Paul Cormier continued on Jim Whitehurst in terms of showing how predictions come true; his keynote starts with the story how Microsoft and VMware changed their attitude towards Linux and virtualization. He also presents a study (starting at 1:45) showing that only Linux and Windows remain operating in the datacenter, and also that Windows is falling in market share, while Linux is rising. This is great news; let’s hope it inspires Microsoft to learn from Red Hat how to be more open. Finally, Marco Bill-Peter is presenting advances in customer support (in a heavy German accent).

Skeptics in the pub

Watching streaming events is cool, but having them in your city is even cooler. I was invited to speak at the local Skeptics in the pub on whether the proprietary technologies are dying. Aside from being happy to speak about the open source in public, I was also happy to speak about the computer science more broadly. Too often people make the mistake thinking that the computer science researchers look for the better ways to repair iPhones, clean up printers, and reinstall Windows. Well, in some way we do, but we don’t really care about those particular products and aren’t really focused on how to root the latest generation of Samsung phones, or clean up some nasty virus that is spreading.

That isn’t to say that any of these things should be undervalued, as most of them aren’t trivial. It’s just that our research work approaches technology in a much broader way, and (somewhat counter-intuitively) solves very specific problems. For example, one such overview would be to look at the historical development of Internet protocols at Berkeley in the 80’s and later; one such problem would be the implementation of Multipath TCP on Linux or Android.

As usual, the presentation was recorded, so it will appear on their YouTube channel at some point.

Luna Morado and I
Luna Morado introducing me as a speaker. (Photo by Igor Kadum.)

Short version of the presentation is: computers are not just PCs anymore, but a range of devices. Non-proprietary software vendors recognized this expansion first, so open technologies are leading the way in many new areas (e.g. mobile phones and tablets), and have also taken the lead in some of the more traditional ones (e.g. infrastructure, web browsers). The “moving to the open source” trend  is very obvious, at least in software. However, even in software, the proprietary vendors are far from being dead yet. Regardless, there are two aspects of the move towards the open source technologies that make me particularly happy.

First aspect is that, with open technologies taking the lead, we can finally provide everyone with the highly sophisticated tools for education. Imagine a kid downloading Eclipse (for free) to learn programming in Java, C, or C++; one does get to experience the real world development environment that developers all around the world use on a daily basis. Imagine if, instead of the fully functional Eclipse integrated development environment, the kid got some kind of a stripped-down toy software or a functionally limited demo version of a software. The kid’s potential for learning would be severely restricted by the software limitations.  (This is not a new idea, most people who cheer open source have been using this in open source advocacy for many years. I was very happy to hear Thomas Cameron use the same argument at 2015 Red Hat Summit welcome speech.)

Second aspect is that LEGO blocks of the software world are starting to emerge in a way, especially considering the container technologies. Again, imagine a kid wanting to run a web, mail, or database server at his home. Want to set it up all by yourself from scratch? There are hundreds of guides available. Want to see how it works when it works? Use a container, or a pre-built virtual appliance image, and spin a server in minutes. Then play with it until it breaks to see how to break it and how to fix it, preferably without starting from scratch. But even when you have to start from scratch, rebuilding a working operating system takes minutes (if not seconds), not tens of minutes or hours.

When I was learning my way around Linux in the 00’s, virtualization was not yet widespread. So, whenever you broke something beyond repair, you had to reinstall your Linux distribution or restore it from a disk/filesystem image of some kind. If you dual-booted Linux and Windows, you could destroy the Windows installation if you did not know what you were doing. Finally, prior to the Ubuntu and subsequent Fedora Live media, installation used to take longer than it does today. And if you think further and consider the geeks who grew up in the 90’s, it’s easy to see that they had even less ease of use in open source software available to them. Yet, both 00’s and 90’s generations of geeks are creating awesome things in the world of the open source software today.

OK, enough talk, where is the code?

I was so inspired from all this, so I got down to coding. I made a small contribution to systemd (which made my OCD hurt less by wrapping the output text in the terminal better) and a bit larger one to CP2K (which crossed off an item from dev:todo list). On the ns-3 front, we have just finished the Google Summer of Code 2015 midterm reviews, with all our students passing. Good times ahead.

The follow-up

Featured image: Greeen Chameleon | Unsplash

When Linkin Park released their second album Meteora, they had a quote on their site that went along the lines of

Musicians have their entire lives to come up with a debut album, and only a very short time afterwards to release a follow-up.

Tea’s follow-up

Tea Rukavina presented her second collection of poetry named Plagijat (would translate to plagiarism in English). Tea’s idea is that her work is plagiarism of what the Universe tells her, and that’s like, deep, bro. The presentation was held by Tea, Silvija Benković Peratova (who mentored Tea in poetry), Ana Šesto (who did the retro industrial cover photo for Plagijat), and had a guest appearence from Alba&Leo.

Tea talked a lot about her experience while writing poetry, the random spurs of inspiration that are common to both science and art (and probably the thousands of other disciplines), the process of turning your notes into a book, and finally releasing the book to the world. On a couple of occasions she made me think of the quote from Linkin Park.

Really, once you make a name for yourself, living up to the standards that come with it is not easy or simple. Take, for example, Wait But Why. I recently read two of their articles about Elon Musk and Tesla Motors, and I highly recommend both of them. Wait But Why will have a hard time following up on that, pretty much like anyone who does the quality work.

I would also like to add that this post is my second one on this blog. Bloggers, just like the musicians and the poetry writers, also have an entire lifetime to come up with the first post, and only a short time afterwards for a follow-up.

PhD done

In other news, I defended my PhD in computer science on June 8th, at Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, University of Zagreb. The defense itself had just the right amount of epic and stress from my point of view, while the rest of the story went like PHD Comics predicted.

Browser wars

Featured image: José Iñesta | Unsplash

Last week in Rijeka we held Science festival 2015. This is the (hopefully not unlucky) 13th instance of the festival that started in 2003. Popular science events were organized in 18 cities in Croatia.

I was invited to give a popular lecture at the University departments open day, which is a part of the festival. This is actually the second time in a row that I got invited to give popular lecture at the open day. In 2014 I talked about The Perfect Storm in information technology caused by the fall of economy during 2008-2012 Great Recession and the simultaneous rise of low-cost, high-value open source solutions. Open source completely changed the landscape of information technology in just a few years.

The talk was well received, but unfortunately was not recorded. However, I was invited to repeat it at Rikon 2014, and we have the recording from there posted on YouTube. The recording is in Croatian, but the Truth Happens Remix video I play during the talk is in English. I also have to credit Jim Whitehurst’s TEDx talk on Economics of the Information Revolution for inspiration.

University departments open day 2015

This year I wanted to talk more specifically about why open source succeeded, and ideally cover one really successful project the general public had prior experience with in the role of a user. Completely unrelated, I also really wanted to talk at some point about what I saw during the early years of Mozilla. These two were really easy to combine, and the topic of Browser wars was proposed and accepted.

The talk covered the rise of NCSA Mosaic, rise of Netscape Navigator/Communicator and later Microsoft Internet Explorer, the First browser war between the two, the fall of Netscape and appearance of Mozilla. I stressed the importance of web standards, and explained how they allowed Apple and Google to enter the competition with Safari and Chrome. Mozilla did not just make the entrance easier for them; it made the entrance possible at all. Mozilla did that by pushing its standards-compliant Firefox browser to the mainstream, which in turn forced webmasters to adapt.

Browser Wars
Browser market share over time, from 1996 to 2009. This timeframe only shows Mozilla Firefox biting into Internet Explorer’s market share, Google Chrome is not shown. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)

The talk has been recorded and will be has been uploaded to YouTube as soon as I get a hold of the recording. In the meantime, you can take a look at the 2012 version of the epic Mozilla Story video I played during the talk (for die-hard fans of Mozilla I will note that 2011 version is also available).

Article in the Universitas newspaper

University of Split newspaper Universitas published an article covering the talk in issue 65, pages 18 and 19. Tomislav Čizmić Marović helped me get the article in shape for publication, had no problem accepting drafts in OpenDocument format, and handled the typesetting very professionally. Thanks!

(Edit: text updated, video has been uploaded to YouTube.)