Category: Open Source (page 1 of 2)

Git yourself off that platform!

This week, tens of thousands of open source projects migrated their codebase away from GitHub to alternatives such as GitLab. Why? Because Microsoft announced that they’ve bought GitHub for $7.5 billion.

For those who don’t spend time in the heady world of software and web development, that sounds like a lot of money for something with a silly name. It will hopefully make things a little clearer to explain that Git is described by Wikipedia in the following way:

Git is a version control system for tracking changes in computer files and coordinating work on those files among multiple people. It is primarily used for source code management in software development, but it can be used to keep track of changes in any set of files. As a distributed revision control system it is aimed at speed, data integrity, and support for distributed, non-linear workflows.

Despite GitHub not being open source, it did, until this week host most of the world’s open source projects. You can currently use GitHub for free if your project’s code is public, and the company sells the ability to create private repositories. As far as I’m aware it’s never turned a profit.

I’ve seen lots of reactions to the Microsoft acquistion news, but one of the more insightful posts comes from Louis-Philippe Véronneau. Like me, he doesn’t trust Microsoft at all.

Some people might be fine with Microsoft’s takeover, but to me it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For a few years now, MS has been running a large marketing campaign on how they love Linux and suddenly decided to embrace Free Software in all of its forms. More like MS BS to me.

Let us take a moment to remind ourselves that:

  • Windows is still a huge proprietary monster that rips billions of people from their privacy and rights every day.
  • Microsoft is known for spreading FUD about “the dangers” of Free Software in order to keep governments and schools from dropping Windows in favor of FOSS.
  • To secure their monopoly, Microsoft hooks up kids on Windows by giving out “free” licences to primary schools around the world. Drug dealers use the same tactics and give out free samples to secure new clients.
  • Microsoft’s Azure platform – even though it can run Linux VMs – is still a giant proprietary hypervisor.

Yep.

I’m thankful that we’re now starting the MoodleNet project in a post-GDPR and post-GitHub world. We’ll be using GitLab — initially via their hosted service, but longer-term as a self-hosted solution — and as many open-source products and services as possible.

Interestingly, Véronneau notes that you can use Debian’s infrastructure (terms) or RiseUp’s infrastructure (terms) if your project aligns with their ethos.

Source: Louis-Philippe Véronneau

OEP (Open Educational Pragmatism?)

This is an interesting post to read, not least because I sat next to the author at the conference he describes last week, and we had a discussion about related issues. Michael Shaw, who’s a great guy and I’ve known for a few years, is in charge of Tes Resources.

I wondered if I would feel like an interloper at the first conference I’ve ever attended on Open Educational Resources (OERs).

It wasn’t a dress code issue (though in hindsight I should have worn trainers) but that most of the attendees at #OER18 were from universities, while only a few of us there worked for education businesses.

Shaw notes he was wary in attending the conference, not only because it’s a fairly tight-knit community:

I work for a commercial company, one that makes money from advertising and recruitment services, plus — even more controversially in this context — by letting teachers sell resources to each other, and taking a percentage on transactions.

However, he found the hosts and participants “incredibly welcoming” and the debates “more open than [he’d] expected on how commercial organisations could play a part” in the ecosystem.

Shaw is keen to point out that the Tes Resources site that he manages is “a potential space for OER-sharing”. He goes on to talk about how he’s an ‘OER pragmatist’ rather than an ‘OER purist’. As a former journalist, Shaw is a great writer. However, I want to tease apart some things I think he conflates.

In his March 2018 post announcing the next phase of development for Tes Resources, Shaw announced that the goal was to create “a community of authors providing high-quality resources for educators”. He conflates that in this post with educators sharing Open Educational Resources. I don’t think the two things are the same, and that’s not because I’m an ‘OER purist’.

The concern that I, and others in the Open Education community, have around commercial players in ecosystem is the tendency to embrace, extend, and extinguish:

  1. Embrace: Development of software substantially compatible with a competing product, or implementing a public standard.
  2. Extend: Addition and promotion of features not supported by the competing product or part of the standard, creating interoperability problems for customers who try to use the ‘simple’ standard.
  3. Extinguish: When extensions become a de facto standard because of their dominant market share, they marginalize competitors that do not or cannot support the new extensions.

So, think of Twitter before they closed their API: a thousand Twitter clients bloomed, and innovations such as pull-to-refresh were invented. Then Twitter decided to ‘own the experience’ of users and changed their API so that those third-party clients withered.

Tes Resources, Shaw admitted to me, doesn’t even have an API. It’s a bit like Medium, the place he chose to publish this post. If he’d written the post in something like WordPress, he’d be notified of my reply via web standard technologies. Medium doesn’t adhere to those standards. Nor does Tes Resources. It’s a walled garden.

My call, then, would be for Tes Resources to develop an API so that services such as the MoodleNet project I’m leading, can query and access it. Up until then, it’s not a repository. It’s just another silo.

Source: Michael Shaw

Image: CC BY Jess

OERu has a social network

I saw (via OLDaily) that OERu is now using Mastodon to form a social network. This might work, it might not, but I’m flagging it as it’s the approach that I’ve moved away from for creating Project MoodleNet.

The OERu uses Mastodon, an open source social network with similar features to Twitter.

We encourage OERu learners to use this social network as part of your personal learning environment (PLE) to interact with your personal learning network (PLN). Many of our courses incorporate activities using Mastodon and this technology is a great way to stay connected with your learning community. The OERu hosted version is located at mastodon.oeru.org.

I was initially convinced that this was the right approach to building what Martin Dougiamas has described as “a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content”. I got deeply involved in the ActivityPub protocol and geeked-out on how ‘decentralised’ it all would be.

However, I’ve changed my mind. Instead of dropping people into another social network (on top of their accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) we’re going to build it around something which will be immediately useful: resource curation. More soon, and follow the Project MoodleNet blog for updates!

Oh, and if you need a short, visual Mastodon explainer, check out this new video.

Source: OERu

How to choose an open license for your project

I’m so used to working openly by default that I sometimes forget that for many (most?) people it’s a new, and sometimes quite scary, step.

Alfonso Sánchez Uzábal pointed to choosealicense.com from GitHub, which makes it simple to choose an open license for your software project. Moodle, for example, is GPL but it gives other examples such as MIT and Apache.

For everything other than software, you’re probably best off with Creative Commons licenses. I’ve been using these for the last fifteen years now on my work and highly recommend them.

Slack’s bait-and-switch?

I remember the early days of Twitter. It was great, as there were many different clients, both native apps and web-based ones. There was lots of innovation in the ecosystem and, in fact, the ‘pull-to-refresh’ feature that’s now baked into every social app on a touchscreen device was first created for a third-party Twitter client.

Twitter then, of course, once it had reached critical mass and mainstream adoption, killed off that third party ecosystem to ‘own the experience’. It looks like Slack, the messaging app for teams, is doing something similar by turning off support for IRC and XMPP gateways:

As Slack has evolved over the years, we’ve built features and capabilities — like Shared Channels, Threads, and emoji reactions (to name a few) — that the IRC and XMPP gateways aren’t able to handle. Our priority is to provide a secure and high-quality experience across all platforms, and so the time has come to close the gateways.

A number of people weren’t happy about this, notably those who rely on the superior accessibility features available through IRC and XMPP. A software developer and consultant by the name of JC Brand takes Slack to task:

We all know the real reason Slack has closed off their gateways. Their business model dictates that they should.

Slack’s business model is to record everything said in a workspace and then to sell you access to their record of your conversations.

They’re a typical walled garden, information silo or Siren Server

So they have to close everything off, to make sure that people can’t extract their conversations out of the silo.

We saw it with Google, who built Gtalk on XMPP and even federated with other XMPP servers, only to later stop federation and XMPP support in favour of trying to herd the digital cattle into the Google+ enclosure.

Facebook, who also built their chat app on XMPP at first allowed 3rd party XMPP clients to connect and then later dropped interoperability.

Twitter, although not using or supporting XMPP, had a vibrant 3rd party client ecosystem which they killed off once they felt big enough.

Slack, like so many others before them, pretend to care about interoperability, opening up just so slightly, so that they can lure in people with the promise of “openness”, before eventually closing the gate once they’ve achieved sufficient size and lock-in.

I’m definitely on the side of open source people/projects here, but it’s worth noting that the author uses the post to promote the solution he’s been developing. And why not?

There’s a comment below the post which makes, I think, a good point:

I’m betting this decision wasn’t made by the same folks who were at Slack (or Facebook, Google, etc) and thought adding support for the open protocols was a good thing. I bet the decision is a product of time over any attempt to trick anyone. Over time people change roles, leave, and slowly new leadership emerges. Outside pressures (market growth, investors) require a change in priority and the org shifts away from supporting things that had low adoption and ongoing maintenance cost.

So I don’t think it’s as malicious as the author implies (Bait and Switch) as that requires some nefarious planning and foresight. I think it’s more likely to be business/product evolution, which still sucks for adopters and the free net, but not as maleficent. Just, unfortunately, the nature of early tech businesses maturing into Just Another Business.

Indeed.

Source: Opkode

Firefox OS lives on in The Matrix

I still have a couple of Firefox OS phones from my time at Mozilla. The idea was brilliant: using the web as the platform for smartphones. The execution, in terms of the partnership and messaging to the market… not so great.

Last weekend, I actually booted up a device as my daughter was asking about ‘that orange phone you used to let me play with sometimes’. I noticed that Mozilla are discontinuing the app marketplace next month.

All is not lost, however, as open source projects can never truly die. This article reports on a ‘fork’ of Firefox OS being used to resurrect one of my favourite-ever phones, which was used in the film The Matrix:

Quietly, a company called KaiOS, built on a fork of Firefox OS, launched a new version of the OS built specifically for feature phones, and today at MWC in Barcelona the company announced a new wave of milestones around the effort that includes access to apps from Facebook, Twitter and Google in the form of its Voice Assistant, Google Maps, and Google Search; as well as a list of handset makers who will be using the OS in their phones, including HMD/Nokia (which announced its 8110 yesterday), Bullitt, Doro and Micromax; and Qualcomm and Spreadtrum for processing on the inside.

I think I’m going to have to buy the new version of the Nokia 8110 just… because.

Source: TechCrunch

 

On the death of Google/Apache Wave (and the lessons we can learn from it)

This article is entitled ‘How not to replace email’ and details both the demise of Google Wave and it’s open source continuation, Apache Wave:

As of a month ago, the Apache Wave project is “retired”. Few people noticed; in the seven years that Wave was an Apache Incubator open source project, it never had an official release, and was stuck at version 0.4-rc10 for the last three years.

Yes, I know! There’s been a couple of times over the last few years when I’ve thought that Wave would have been perfect for a project I was working on. But the open source version never seemed to be ‘ready’.

The world want ready for it in 2010, but now would seem to be the perfect time for something like Wave:

2017 was a year of rapidly growing interest in federated communications tools such as Mastodon, which is an alternative to Twitter that doesn’t rely on a single central corporation. So this seems like a good time to revisit an early federated attempt to reinvent how we use the internet to communicate with each other.

As the author notes, the problem was the overblown hype around it, causing Google to pull it after just three months. He quoted a friend of his who at one time was an active user:

We’d start sending messages with lots of diagrams, sketches, and stuff cribbed from Google Images, and then be able to turn those sort of longer-than-IM-shorter-than-email messages into actual design documents gradually.

In fact, I’d argue that even having a system that’s a messaging system designed for “a paragraph or two” was on its own worthwhile: even Slack isn’t quite geared toward that, and contrariwise, email […] felt more heavyweight than that. Wave felt like it encouraged the right amount of information per message.

I feel this too, and it’s actually something we’ve been talking about for internal communications at Moodle. Telegram, (which we use kind of like Slack) is good for short, sharp communication, but there’s a gulf between that and, say, an email conversation or threaded forum discussion.

Perhaps this is the sweet spot for the ‘social networking’ aspect of Project MoodleNet?

Wave’s failure didn’t have anything to do with the ideas that went into it.

Those ideas and goals are sound, and this failure even provided good evidence that there’s a real need for something kind of like Wave: fifty thousand people signed a petition to “Save Google Wave” after Google announced they were shutting Wave down. Like so many petitions, it didn’t help (obviously), but if a mediocre implementation got tens of thousands of passionate fans, what could a good implementation do?

Helpfully, the author outlines some projects he’s been part of, after stating (my emphasis):

I’d say the single most important lesson to take away here, for a technology project at least, is that interoperability is key.

  • Assume that no matter how amazing your new tech is, people are going to adopt it slowly.
  • Give your early adopters every chance you can to use your offering together with the existing tools that they will continue to need in order to work with people who haven’t caught up yet.
  • And if you’re building a communication tool, make it as simple as possible for others to build compatible tools, because they will expand the network of people your users can communicate with to populations you haven’t thought of and probably don’t understand.

It’s a really useful article with many practical applications (well, for me at least…)

Source: Jamey Sharp

The origin of the term ‘open source’

I didn’t used to think that who came up with the name of a thing particularly mattered, nor how it came about.

I’ve changed my mind, however, as the history of these things also potentially tells you about their future. In this article, Christine Peterson outlines how she came up with the term ‘open source’:

The introduction of the term “open source software” was a deliberate effort to make this field of endeavor more understandable to newcomers and to business, which was viewed as necessary to its spread to a broader community of users. The problem with the main earlier label, “free software,” was not its political connotations, but that—to newcomers—its seeming focus on price is distracting. A term was needed that focuses on the key issue of source code and that does not immediately confuse those new to the concept. The first term that came along at the right time and fulfilled these requirements was rapidly adopted: open source.

Tellingly, as it was the 1990s, Peterson let a man introduce it for the term to gain traction:

Toward the end of the meeting, the question of terminology was brought up explicitly, probably by Todd or Eric. Maddog mentioned “freely distributable” as an earlier term, and “cooperatively developed” as a newer term. Eric listed “free software,” “open source,” and “sourceware” as the main options. Todd advocated the “open source” model, and Eric endorsed this. I didn’t say much, letting Todd and Eric pull the (loose, informal) consensus together around the open source name. It was clear that to most of those at the meeting, the name change was not the most important thing discussed there; a relatively minor issue. Only about 10% of my notes from this meeting are on the terminology question.

From this point, Tim O’Reilly had to agree and popularise it, but:

Coming up with a phrase is a small contribution, but I admit to being grateful to those who remember to credit me with it. Every time I hear it, which is very often now, it gives me a little happy twinge.

Source: opensource.com

A useful IndieWeb primer

I’ve followed the IndieWeb movement since its inception, but it’s always seemed a bit niche. I love (and use) the POSSE model, for example, but expecting everyone to have domain of their own stacked with open source software seems a bit utopian right now.

I was surprised and delighted, therefore, to see a post on the GoDaddy blog extolling the virtues of the IndieWeb for business owners. The author explains that the IndieWeb movement was born of frustration:

Frustration from software developers who like the idea of social media, but who do not want to hand over their content to some big, unaccountable internet company that unilaterally decides who gets to see what.

Frustration from writers and content creators who do not want a third party between them and the people they want to reach.

Frustration from researchers and journalists who need a way to get their message out without depending on the whim of a big company that monitors, and sometimes censors, what they have to say.

He does a great job of explaining, with an appropriate level of technical detail, how to get started. The thing I’d really like to see in particular is people publishing details of events at a public URL instead of (just) on Facebook:

Importantly, with IndieAuth, you can log into third-party websites using your own domain name. And your visitors can log into your website with their domain name. Or, if you organize events, you can post your event announcement right on your website, and have attendees RSVP either from their own IndieWeb sites, or natively on a social site.

A recommended read. I’ll be pointing people to this in future!

Source: GoDaddy

Open source apps for agile project teams

A really interesting post about open source apps, most of which I’ve never come across!

In this list, there are no project management apps, no checklists, and no integrations with GitHub. Just simple ways to organize your thoughts and promote team communication.

Will be exploring with interest.

Source: opensource.com