The death of the (official) Ubuntu phone OS

You may recall I bought a Meizu Pro 5 Ubuntu Edition phone from China in June 2016. I wrote up a review here.

Unfortunately Canonical (the company which leads the Ubuntu project) announced they were ceasing development of the Ubuntu phone OS in April this year. (See also this Ars Technica article here.)

Mark Shuttlesworth, the Ubuntu founder, wrote in the announcement that he had high hopes for the Ubuntu mobile OS project, but it never took off: Continue reading “The death of the (official) Ubuntu phone OS”

Briefly: What’s the value of a free service?

At the New York Times, Patricia Cohen has written an interesting piece on how economic growth measures (e.g. Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) aren’t great at measuring some parts of the economy.

That’s because a country’s GDP doesn’t include goods or services which are ‘free’. For instance, a mother or father who doesn’t work and looks after their kid doesn’t add a dollar to GDP because they aren’t being paid — but they’re performing an immensely valuable service.

Another — increasingly important — GDP blackhole is free digital services:

The growing suspicion, however, is that in a digital world overflowing with free services like Facebook, Google and YouTube, price is an increasingly ill-suited proxy for value.

What is the worth of a free software update that protects against a nasty virus? Of the streaming service that enables you to watch shows on your computer instead of on a television? Of the hours and hours saved by looking up a fact on Wikipedia rather than having to go to a library? All have productive value but no price.

I’ve thought about this problem in relation to free/open source software too. The more people who are using open source software, the lower GDP goes, even if the user is happier than if they’d paid for propriety software.

Making an open source thesis

Front page of thesis

I’ve just — finally — submitted my politics Masters thesis to the Victoria University of Wellington library, and I thought it might be interesting to note down a few things I did along the way. I’m really interesting in open source, so I thought it would be a good idea to walk the talk and make an open source thesis.

Using open source tools

One of the most obvious ways to make an open source thesis was is to use open source tools. I used LibreOffice Writer to write all 42,000 words of it. Using LO writer was an almost entirely pain free process, except for a couple of admittedly stressful times when the xml of the file got corrupted and I had to revert to old versions to rescue my work.

I also analysed my focus group transcripts using the open source qualitative data analysis tool RQDA. It was really easy and worked really well — I would definitely recommend it.

Add a creative commons licence

I chose to license my thesis under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 Licence. The licence basically allows anyone to share or remix my work as long as they attribute me as the creator and share their subsequent creation with the same licence (or a compatible one). While I think I’m pretty realistic about the fact that pretty much noone is ever going to look at my thesis, I think it’s cool to think that someone might come along and do something interesting with my work.

The international Creative Commons organisation has been advocating for students to license their theses since at least 2009. There must be huge numbers of theses now out there available to read, remix and build on. It’s much easier to stand on the metaphorical shoulders of giants in scholarship when everything is free to read!

Making your thesis open access

The university where I studied has a good open access repository, so I’ll be putting my thesis in the open access section so anyone can view it and download it for free. I think adding your work to the open access repository is a fantastic idea — it’s the best way to make it available so people will actually read it.

Why the world needs Firefox more than ever

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about why the world needs Firefox, and the ways in which Firefox can be sold to normal people who don’t know what open source software is and just like something which works. The challenge for Firefox, and Mozilla, lies in turning around this worrying trend:

Usage_share_of_web_browsers_(Source_StatCounter).svg
By various Wikimedia users, CC BY 3.0

I think what’s getting in the way of Firefox growing — or even retaining its market share — is the widespread perception that Google Chrome is “just better”. Moreover, Chrome is pre-installed on Android devices and available on iOS. With Firefox, by contrast, a potential user has to go the trouble of installing Firefox on Android, and it’s not even available on iOS (although that might change). Finally, Google has a huge ad network on which they run ads prodding you to try Chrome to speed up the web, an approach which Mozilla is unable to match.

I’m going to explore why we need browser competition, the similarities between the fight Firefox is currently engaged in and the one it fought against Internet Explorer in the 2000s, as well as how Firefox might break out of the declining (or at least not growing) user-base problem it’s currently in. Continue reading “Why the world needs Firefox more than ever”

Is Android evil?

Android naughty or nice
Original robot: Impish / Google, CC-BY

Android is a hugely popular mobile operating system, accounting for about 80% of smartphones. I used to think that it was great to have a mobile OS that was also open source. But I’ve gradually come to realise that Android’s open source credentials leave a lot to be desired, and that Google is engaged in some pretty anti-competitive behaviour.

So I’ve been thinking recently whether using an android phone or tablet is consistent with a concern for privacy, a desire to avoid monopolistic products, and a sympathetic attitude towards open source software. The conclusion I’ve come to is no – Android is pretty evil. Continue reading “Is Android evil?”

ideological self-flagellation

Last year I had an internship where I had to take along my own crappy netbook. On it, I hadn’t shelled out for a copy of Microsoft Office, and was instead using the mostly excellent LibreOffice. The person I was working for eventually noticed all the files I was sending them were coming out strange when they opened them in Office, and I had to explain why. After I had explained the reasoning behind not using Word etc, they said something along the lines of “so you’re subjecting yourself to inconvenience for ideological reasons?”. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I think this comment hit the nail on the head. The sad reality of open source software – and the open source movement more generally – is that yes, using free alternatives does involve subjecting yourself to relatively constant annoyances and inconveniences. Continue reading “ideological self-flagellation”