I always find Matt Asay’s blog an interesting read - even if I don’t always agree with him, his posts on open source are always thought provoking. Today he was talking about how Wikipedia’s contribution rate is falling and how that has parallels in open source; that the community is no replacement for a centralised, focussed team. He’s right on the core point - at the heart of every successful open source project there’s always a core team (or individual), and in the really influential ones, that team is usually funded - Mozilla is famously bankrolled almost entirely by Google, the Apache foundation has many, many sponsors including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, Eclipse has IBM, and so on.
One of the things I love about open source is that there’s a huge amount of power in the idea that you can use, and indeed co-operate on, a whole ecosytem of generalised, robust, re-usable components, and then combine, configure and supplement them into something that is greater than the sum of its parts - into a final result which concentrates on being extremely good at a particular task. There was a time that to create something awesome in a particular space, you’d either have to buy in lots of expertise or you’d have to invent it yourself, before you ever got to the interesting bit that mattered.
As soon as Macs started running on Intel, they became infinitely more attractive just because suddenly you had the option of using Windows on them too if you needed to. Because let’s face it, as lovely to use as OS X is, and as much as its popularity has grown, the majority of the world still runs Windows. Boot Camp is a great little tool provided by Apple which makes setting up a dual-boot into Windows generally a breeze, barring a few small niggles such as the slightly ropey support for the extended functions of the track pad (two-finger right-clicking and scrolling is very flaky).
A few weeks ago I decided to start seriously investigating switching to a DVCS. I’m currently up to my eyes in work and haven’t really had time to progress that in the last few weeks; however some absolutely abhorrent performance / reliability problems with Sourceforge’s Subversion server made a large merge process so costly to me (in the end I had to commit in small chunks, breaking transactional consistency, and it needed so much babysitting because of the speed / reliability it took me 4 bloody hours just to commit!
I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve needed this on OS X, but it came about from needing to write a document for a European customer and suddenly realising I didn’t know how to make an umlaut on my Macbook Pro’s British keyboard. On Windows I might fire up the Character Map, but I didn’t know how to do it on OS X. Here’s what I discovered: OS X friendly apps like Mail, Safari, iCal and even Firefox have a ‘Special Characters’ entry on the Edit menu which brings up an equivalent of Character Map.
It’s nice when software reflects a programmer’s sense of humour and humility. This message appeared when I restarted Firefox 3.5.3 after an XP crash: Bravo - thanks for making me chuckle, and thus forgive you instantly for any error (and it might not even have been yours). Bless.
Ok, so I discovered a number of shortcomings in my recent attempt to sync a folder in one direction to Amazon S3 using encryption, the most important of which was that it wouldn’t resume a failed transfer efficiently, which in the case of large transfers wasn’t at all ideal (as I learned to be own cost - damn my 256k upload speed). So, this is attempt number 2. I decided to completely rewrite the script in Python instead to give me some more flexibility, coupled with the availability of Boto, a nice Python library for accessing all the Amazon Web Services.
Edit: this script is deprecated in favour of a rewritten version 2. I use Amazon S3 to host large media files which I want cheap scalable bandwidth on, and for expandable offsite storage of important backups. I used to have some simple incremental tar scripts to do my offsite backups, but since I moved to Bacula, I’ve just established an alternative schedule and file set definition for my offsite backups, the critical subset of data I couldn’t possibly stand to lose (like company documents).
This was pretty interesting; CNet reports that according to NPD stats, Apple has 91% of the retail PC sales in the US above $1,000. Now, let’s add the caveats here: That’s retail PCs. Of course, loads of people build their (desktop) PCs from OEM parts rather than buying a prebuilt machine, so it’s safe to say that these sales are almost all going to be laptops, where Apple particularly shines.
Amazon has started email-bombing people in the UK with Windows 7 pre-order offers, a little while after a similar pre-order offer was available in the US. Windows 7 is the first version of Windows that I’ve found myself being upbeat about since 2001, so I cheerfully clicked the link. The result was an offer of Windows 7 Professional “E” (the European version with IE removed, congrats EU on fighting an originally well-intentioned battle that ceased to be practically relevant almost a decade ago) for a ‘discounted’ price of £180.