TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Betting on The Dark Horse

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Programming

The Source Hound

by Dean Shavit

Betting on The Dark Horse

When someone mentions Open-Source software in the Information Technology arena these days, there's often smiles all around. There's big wide grins (those who've made careers maintaining solutions most corporate IT departments wouldn't dare touch); there's wry smiles (folks who'll listen but never ever implement software without 24/7 telephone support); there's the up/down silly Texas-border shaped smiles of those who've spend months or years wrestling with compilers, config files, dependencies, and libraries, and, of course, there's the smile-and-nod "Oh yes we've heard of that" from the gee-whiz IT Analysts who bandy about big buzz-words yet not-so-slyly bet on the favorite from the big proprietors of big proprietary software.

A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course, Or Is It?

Not a month can go by when I don't hear a horror story of Microsoft swooping down on some growing company that didn't have its licenses in order, only to cow them into ponying up for Office and Windows and a hefty fine. It's really strange to see, in almost every instance, those companies continue on with the big proprietors seemingly out of fear of either being litigated into an early grave or left without software to run their businesses.

One reality that many companies don't consider is that there is a choice of platforms and software for any business, regardless of its size, age, or niche. No company has to follow the rest of the lemmings off the cliff and standardize on Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, or even on OS X, for that matter. There's always FreeBSD or any number of Linux distributions available to use as an Operating System. Another reality, though, has to do with basic support--the computer is a foundation for the software that runs on it, so naturally it should be functional out of the box, if not ready for action, hopefully with some one to call if the computer should come up lame. So choosing a computer platform for personal use or business is a lot like plunking down money on a horse race: there's the favorite (Windows and Office), there's the challenger (OS X and Office) and then there's the long shot (OS X running Open-Source alternatives to Microsoft Software), and of course, the even longer-shot (Linux, an Open-Source Operating System running Open-Source software).

I've always been a fan of the underdog (hence my devotion to the Mac platform before and after OS X), but even though OS X has really leveled the playing field in terms of pure functionality when running neck and neck with the latest versions of Windows, the Mac, in my opinion, is now more than ever the dark-horse platform, but with one important difference: it now is showing signs of becoming a great platform for Open-Source solutions.

Arpanet: The Old Grey Mare

Once upon a time, the computer software business was a cooperative effort between very large entities--most notably the Government, and the Government. Nearly all of the foundational components of the Internet such as TCP/IP protocol suite, and the UNIX Operating System itself, have history in the DOD (Department of Defense) and the ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which spawned an unprecedented level of cooperation between Government agencies and large Universities. Reading the numerous histories of the ARPAnet, I found that the various authors kept repeating two similar phrases, albeit in slightly different forms: "there was a spirit of openness" or, "there was a spirit of sharing."

Evidently, the late 60s computer developers mirrored the spirit of their age, and established a standard of open documentation that paved the way for the Internet, UNIX with common command sets, and email, known as the RFC (Requests for Comments), which came a direct need to keep everyone in the NWG (Network Working Group) up-to-date:

"These standards (or lack of them) are stated explicitly for two reasons. First, there is a tendency to view a written statement as ipso facto authoritative, and we hope to promote the exchange and discussion of considerably less than authoritative ideas. Second, there is a natural hesitancy to publish something unpolished, and we hope to ease this inhibition." (Crocker, RFC 3 - 1969)

One researcher, Robert Braden, summed it up this way:

"For me, participation in the development of the ARPAnet and the Internet protocols has been very exciting. One important reason it worked, I believe, is that there were a lot of very bright people all working more or less in the same direction, led by some very wise people in the funding agency. The result was to create a community of network researchers who believed strongly that collaboration is more powerful than competition among researchers. I don't think any other model would have gotten us where we are today." (RFC 1336)

There's an overwhelming consensus, even today, among most computer professionals and software companies that the Internet should remain framed with the bounds of open standards. That's why it's downright scary when a company like Microsoft announces any type of Internet or web-related initiative--such proposals, no matter how good they might be for computer users, threaten the spirit of the endeavor, which is probably, anti-trust legalities aside, spurred the Government's lawsuits against Microsoft, which probably wasn't really breaking any laws by building Internet Explorer into Windows. What Microsoft was doing, or threatening to do, was to build something that wasn't good for the Internet, and in many respects, the Internet is one of the greatest things our Government ever helped to produce, Al Gore's contribution non-withstanding. After all IP packets still carry Uncle Sam's stamp, as in these:

ETHERNET: ETYPE = 0x0800 : Protocol = IP:  DOD Internet Protocol
      ETHERNET: Destination address : 00E0293C9740
          ETHERNET: .......0 = Individual address
          ETHERNET: ......0. = Universally administered address

GNU And Linux: Horses OF A Different Color

Some web sites refer to the ARPAnet and the development of the TCP/IP protocol suite and the RFCs as the "Prehistory of Open-Source," but actually, Open-Source is often described as a "movement." As such, the years between the introduction of the Macintosh, which coincided with the increasing dominance of Microsoft Operating Systems, and the foundation of the "official" Open-Source Initiative in 1998, are the years where Open-Source compiled its tracts. Much of the action coalesced around two groups: GNU (Gnu's Not Unix), which codified the spirit of cooperation in the form of Open licenses and NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications), which brought the World Wide Web into general use. Together, the platform for collaboration (the Internet) and Open licensing would lay the groundwork for the Open-Source offerings available today.

Much of the GNU project is the brainchild of one man, Richard Stallman, who announced in 1983:

Free Unix!

Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed.

Although the GNU project didn't get into full swing until 1984, it was clear that Stallman certainly had the OSS (Open-Source Spirit). Eventually, this spirit evolved into a manifesto:

Why I Must Write GNU

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement. For years I worked within the Artificial Intelligence Lab to resist such tendencies and other inhospitalities [sic], but eventually they had gone too far: I could not remain in an institution where such things are done for me against my will. So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free. I have resigned from the AI lab to deny MIT any legal excuse to prevent me from giving GNU away.

The first thing that comes to mind is wow, here's a guy willing to quit his job, because he feels so passionately about the need for readily available, non-commercial computing tools. Is there anyone who feels that strongly today? No doubt there is; yet such grand sacrifices are hardly necessary now, not with the the GNU General Public License. The founding fathers knew that spirit alone just isn't enough to make a permanent dent--every prophet eventually has to be or find a scribe.

So, in 1989 (later revised in 1991), the spirit of the GNU project was codified in the GNU General Public License, also known as the GPL. This is now the license of choice for almost all Open-Source software. This principle became known as "Copyleft." Like the Declaration of Independence, the GLP has a few choice lines that sum up the whole:

    1. From the Preamble: "The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software--to make sure the software is free for all its users."

    2. "When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price."

    3. "To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights. These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it. For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.

    4. "Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software patents. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all."

How many of us breeze through the license agreements while installing software, oblivious to the legalities that installation implies? To take a moment to read the GPL reveals a work of sparse genius: modify, customize, even patent the software if you like, but your rights are everyone's rights. Ad infinitum. You can make it your own, but you can't own it. That pretty much sums up the state of Open Source licensing up to the present--even though there's variations on Open Licensing such as the LGPL, BSD, MIT, and Mozilla public licenses, just to name a few. A complete list is available at http://www.opensource.org/licenses/index.php.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds, gave birth to a graduate school project and an operating system that bore this name: Linux. Even though the GNU "hackers" had developed a foundation of free software tools that ran under UNIX, the Operating System itself remained under private ownership and could and would be used for competitive and proprietary purposes in the quest to gain market share. Linux gave Open-Source development what it really need to flourish: a complete Open-Source, low overhead and lightweight foundation. Just like the GNU software, Linux could be freely distributed, modified, and enhanced, as long as the source code shipped along with the disc and documentation. It's not necessary to go into depth on Linux, let's just acknowledge that it's been very, very successful. Apple even cut its teeth on Linux with MkLinux (http://www.mklinux.org) in the late 1990's with the intention of bringing it to to the PowerPC platform. MkLinux was different from all other Linux distributions because it used an earlier version of the Mach microkernel that powers OS X.

The Great Big Gift Horse(s)

It was one thing for the GNU hackers and Linus Torvalds to build free UNIX tools and a free operating system. It was another, wholly unanticipated event that kicked the Open-Source initiative into high gear, the announcement that Netscape intended to give away the source code for its browser, Netscape Navigator, which would later become Mozilla (and FireFox and Camino and Thunderbird), and a foundation (the Mozilla Foundation, named after the colorful dragon mascot of Netscape 1.0). A group of excited volunteers, with the blessing of Linus Torvalds, created www.opensource.org, definitively coining the term "Open-Source," and adopting the Open Source Definition derived from the Debian Linux Free Software Guidelines. The gift of Netscape didn't pay off immediately, but when it did, all computing platforms--Windows, OS X, and Linux got a better browsers and email clients, with other products like group calendaring (Sunbird) and a world-class bug tracking system (Bugzilla) as well.

In the year 2000, Sun Microsystems followed the lead of Netscape, gifting the codebase for StarOffice to the Open-Source community, established the OpenOffice project. It was the single largest lump of source code ever to be released to open development, and eventually, through the hard work of the NeoOffice team (http://www.neooffice.org) brought a Microsoft Office alternative to OS X without X Windows, fully integrated with the OS X Aqua interface late in 2004.

The successes of Linux, OSD and the Mozilla project, rubbed off on Apple as it honed its plans for OS X in 1999. By making the core of its Operating System, known as Darwin, Open-Source, Apple gained important mindshare among developers. Almost immediately upon its release, OS X had companion projects such as Fink (http://fink.sourceforge.net) and Darwinports (http://darwinports.opendarwin.org) to bring Linux and BSD software to OS X. With the release of X Windows for OS X in 2002, and Xcode tools with the GCC 3 compiler concurrent with OS X 10.3, the pace of "porting" or tweaking source code for compilation under Xcode has picked up with a large percentage of Linux software available to run on the Mac either on the command line, under X Windows, or in some cases, natively in the OS X Aqua environment, even though some versions lag slightly behind the Linux versions. Nowadays, it's almost expected that an Open-Source project has an OS X or Darwin version. As a matter of fact, there's currently a quiet propaganda battle going on between the the OS X user community and the Linux user community as to which has the greater share of UNIX desktops. Either way, it's a win-win for all computer users.

Betting On The Dark Horse

It's quite amazing how the Mac has evolved in its role as the dark horse of the computer world. Back in the days before OS X, Mac users may have had the superior interface, file system, and desktop publishing platform, but the reality was that as Windows progressed, Mac OS 9 showed creakiness and lack of flexibility. It was difficult, if not impossible, for instance, to get a VPN client, or a Windows file sharing client, or access to an Apache web server without paying through the nose, things we now take for granted. As an underdog, OS X is now not only more capable and secure than Windows, it's also capable of running a majority of Linux software.

Just today, Apple announced the Mac Mini, the cheapest Mac ever. At $499, the Mac Mini has a chance to make some serious penetration into the corporate IT world as a workstation of choice to replace aging Windows boxes or Macs. With more and more companies seeking to decrease their dependence on proprietary solutions (not to mention decreasing licensing fees and the fear that comes from non-compliance as well), OS X is poised to eat into Microsoft's market share as it never has before. Imagine a five hundred dollar workstation that requires not a single commercial application to be a productive business computer, with a slick and friendly interface, the tightest hardware/software integration available for any platform, with no CALs (client access licenses on the server end), no software police, and no malware. I'm putting my money on the dark horse, which just happens to be white.


Dean Shavit is an ACSA (Apple Certified System Administrator) who leads training sessions and manages consulting projects for MOST (Mac OS Training & Consulting) in Chicago. If you have questions or feedback you can contact him at dean@macworkshops.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Google Chrome 53.0.2785.143 - Modern and...
Google Chrome is a Web browser by Google, created to be a modern platform for Web pages and applications. It utilizes very fast loading of Web pages and has a V8 engine, which is a custom built... Read more
Chromium 53.0.2785.143 - Fast and stable...
Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster, and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Version 53.0.2785.143: [Security Fix] High CVE-2016-... Read more
QuickBooks 2015 16.1.7.1524 R8 - Financi...
Save 20% on QuickBooks Pro for Mac today through this special discount link QuickBooks 2015 helps you manage your business easily and efficiently. Organize your finances all in one place, track... Read more
Sierra Cache Cleaner 11.0.1 - Clear cach...
Sierra Cache Cleaner is an award-winning general purpose tool for macOS X. SCC makes system maintenance simple with an easy point-and-click interface to many macOS X functions. Novice and expert... Read more
Default Folder X 5.0.7 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click on... Read more
Safari Technology Preview 10.1 - The new...
Safari Technology Preview contains the most recent additions and improvements to WebKit and the latest advances in Safari web technologies. And once installed, you will receive notifications of... Read more
Tweetbot 2.4.4 - Popular Twitter client.
Tweetbot is a full-featured OS X Twitter client with a lot of personality. Whether it's the meticulously-crafted interface, sounds and animation, or features like multiple timelines and column views... Read more
Google Earth 7.1.7.2602 - View and contr...
Google Earth gives you a wealth of imagery and geographic information. Explore destinations like Maui and Paris, or browse content from Wikipedia, National Geographic, and more. Google Earth combines... Read more
Things 2.8.8 - Elegant personal task man...
Things is a task management solution that helps to organize your tasks in an elegant and intuitive way. Things combines powerful features with simplicity through the use of tags and its intelligent... Read more
Firefox 49.0.1 - Fast, safe Web browser.
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more

Cybird’s latest release - BFB Champions...
Launched in the UK in early September, BFB Champions’ newest update is loaded with great new features, and looks set to outshine the original version by taking it out of soft launch and giving it a new lease of life. | Read more »
3 apps to boost your focus
As someone who works from home, my workspace is a minefield of distraction. Cats, tasty snacks, the wind blowing past my window, that cleaning that I suddenly can’t put off any longer. If I let distraction takes its course, I find that soon half... | Read more »
4 games like Burly Men at Sea to inspire...
Burly Men at Sea is out today and it looks a treat. It tells the tale of three Scandinavian fishermen who leave the humdrum of their daily lives to go exploring. It’s a beautiful folksy story that unfurls as you interact with the environment... | Read more »
3 reasons you need to play Kingdom: New...
Developed by a tag team of indie developers - Thomas "Noio" van den Berg and Marco "Licorice" Bancale - Kingdom is a vibrant medieval fantasy adventure that casts players as a king or queen who must expand their empire by exploring the vasts lands... | Read more »
JoyCity have launched a brand new King o...
Great news for all of you Game of Dice fans out there - JoyCity have just released a brand new limited edition pack with a really cool twist. The premise of Game of Dice is fairly straightforward, asking you to roll dice to navigate your way around... | Read more »
Burly Men at Sea (Games)
Burly Men at Sea 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Burly Men at Sea is a folktale about a trio of large, bearded fishermen who step away from the ordinary to seek adventure. | Read more »
3 tips for catching the gnarliest waves...
Like a wave breaking on the shore, Tidal Rider swept its way onto the App Store charts this week settling firmly in the top 10. It’s a one-touch high score-chaser in which you pull surfing stunts while dodging seagulls and collecting coins. The... | Read more »
The beginner's guide to destroying...
Age of Heroes: Conquest is 5th Planet Games’ all new turn-based multiplayer RPG, full of fantasy exploration, guild building, and treasure hunting. It’s pretty user-friendly as far as these games go, but when you really get down to it, you’ll find... | Read more »
Infinite Tanks (Games)
Infinite Tanks 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders (FULL)...
Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders (FULL) 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders Your weapon is your knowledge. Your wits will be put to the ultimate... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs a...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at $759. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: - 2015 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 13″ and 11″ MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air: $799 $100 MSRP - 11″ 1.6GHz/256GB... Read more
Apple refurbished 12-inch 128GB iPad Pros ava...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 12″ Apple iPad Pros available for up to $160 off the cost of new iPads. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 32GB 12″ iPad... Read more
Phone2Action Unveils New Voter Turnout Techno...
Phone2Action, a leading digital advocacy platform, today launched its Tech to Vote Civic Action Center digital advocacy and communications platform on National Voter Registration Day September 27.... Read more
Apple & Deloitte Team Up to Help Business...
Apple and international professional services firm Deloitte have announced a partnership to help companies quickly and easily transform their workflow dynamics by maximizing the power, ease-of-use,... Read more
Chop Commute – See Traffic and Drive Times on...
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts based Indie developer, InchWest has released Chop Commute 1.61, a Mac app that takes the guesswork out of daily commute by showing real-time traffic and drive times right on... Read more
12-inch 32GB WiFi iPad Pros on sale for $50 o...
B&H Photo has 12″ 32GB WiFi Apple iPad Pros on sale for $50 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 12″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $749 $50 off MSRP -... Read more
Recent price drops on refurbished iPad minis...
Apple recently dropped prices on several Certified Refurbished iPad mini 4s and 2s as well as iPad Air 2s. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 16GB iPad... Read more
Apple refurbished Mac minis available startin...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $928...
Overstock has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $927.99 including free shipping. Their price is $171 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
*Apple* Wireless Lead - T-ROC - The Retail O...
…wealth of knowledge in wireless sales and activations to the Beautiful and NEW APPLE Experience store within MACYS.. THIS role, APPLE Wireless Lead, isbrandnewas Read more
Lead *Apple* Advocate - T-ROC - The Retail...
…Company, is proud of its unprecedented relationship with our partner and client, APPLE ,in bringing amazing" APPLE ADVOCATES"to "non" Apple store locations. Read more
*Apple* Advocate - T-ROC - The Retail Outsou...
…Company, is proud of its unprecedented relationship with our partner and client, APPLE ,in bringing amazing" APPLE ADVOCATES"to "non" Apple store locations. Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.