It's so hip and fresh. Open-source singlehandedly represents the latest and greatest thinking in the modern-day technological movement. Drop it into a conversation and you're suddenly talking like a futurist. Throw it into a company's strategic roadmap and suddenly we've created innovation and depth. Suggest that virus-makers are embracing open-source, and you've got the attention (and clicks) of Web geeks worldwide.
Wait a minute. Open-source viruses? How does that work?
Ahh, TechCrunch50 time. For those outside of the Valley, otherwise known as "The Know," this is the time of year when legions of startups (47) descend onto a common stage under the TechCrunch banner, all eager to pitch their next, greatest idea to a field of hungry judges and enthusiastic audience members.
Every time this happens--or every time any show similar to the TechCrunch50 goes down--I always look forward to the new batch of oddly named Web applications that I'll probably never hear about again, let alone actually use. For this, I have but one source to blame: open data. Just because there's an API or the free-flow of information outward from a single popular source doesn't mean that one always has to make a spin-off project. But if you build it, they will indeed come. The developers, that is, and they're always looking to cash in on the next big variation to an already successful idea.
I'm not exactly sure why this is the case with Web applications and why it's not always mirrored in open-source or freeware software development. What is it about a Web platform that makes it such an intriguing breeding ground for rip-offery? Is it really that easy to create a Web mashup of two social networks instead of pouring the same amount of effort into, say, a new instant messaging application?
Why do open-source programs win awards? Or, rather, what is it about open-source that makes us so prone to dishing out accolades--as if the very nature of a program being open-source somehow makes it indistinguishable from any other common application you can use.
And, for that matter, why do we keep giving the same programs the same awards?
I'm talking, of course, about Infoworld's recently announced "Best of Open Software Awards 2009." As a frequent downloader, user, and recommender of open-source software, I just don't get it. And neither do my colleagues, who have already weighed in on the strange circumstances surrounding some of Infoworld's picks for best business process management tool, amongst others.
But this isn't some Grandpa Simpson-like complaining about who should have won this, and why Pidgin didn't win that. No, the fault is not the presence of the awards banquet; it's the menu. Awards that focus on the open-source world invariably highlight the wrong aspects of the movement at the expense of areas that should rightfully be noted. While I can't speak to many of Infoworld's enterprise-themed selections--in fact, that's all the site elects to highlight--I think there's something to be said for calling out important software triumphs in the open-source world. We, in the media, are just prone to pointing the spotlight the wrong way.
At first, I just didn't get it--the Chumby, that is. This little LCD display wrapped in a hug of padding looked like a bizarre cross between my car's antiquated GPS device, the throw-up of an OSX dashboard, and a big plushy hunk of love. To its genius, that's exactly what the Chumby is... and so much more. And did I mention that it's open-source as well?
Contrary to most of the open-source hardware projects I've mentioned on Maximum PC, the Chumby is ready for your attention the moment you pop it out of the box. But that doesn't mean that you can't tweak and tinker beyond its simplistic exterior. Although cracking open the soft, loveable digital toy will violate your warranty, the official Chumby site is more than happy to give you a listing of the device's full hardware--schematics as well. From there, only your conscience toward ripping open friendly, plush, communication devices stands in your way of complete hardware transcendence.
If hardware hacking isn't your thing, however, the second best part of the Chumby is the comprehensive list of software widgets that you can display and interact with on the device. To find these, you can go the official route and download apps directly off of Chumby's main site or you can scour the internet for custom, USB-deployable software to stick into your device.
Just what do these tweaks entail? Click the jump and find out--featuring examples you can play with too!
Hell hath no fury like an open-source developer scorned. In the red corner, we have Portable Apps and its developer, John Haller. In the blue corner, we have LiberKey and project manager Christophe Peuch. Both programs are suites of applications that can sit on your USB key for portable use. Both offer a number of open-source or freeware apps that assist you in your everyday PC tasks without costing you a single penny. At one point, it was argued that both shared an identical design, layout, and operation. But that's just one of the many charges being heaved across the battleground--its accuracy, along with the others, is subject to dispute.
I wrote a while back about the confusing issues surrounding open-source and freeware licensing. They haven't changed. The controversy over LiberKey is a perfect example of the confusion--enough so, that Maximum PC itself removed a mention of the suite from one of our freeware roundups after allegations of wrongdoing on the developer's part. But is this piece of software as guilty of the violations as the Internet chatter would have you believe? Or has LiberKey done its fair share to eliminate the liabilities caused by its inclusion of open-source and freeware apps into a large package manager?
Why should you care? That's the easiest answer of them all. Supporting applications that stick to the legal guidelines of trademark, permissions, and licensing ensures you're downloading stable, safe, and secure packages that foster the spirit of open source software. If you support software that flaunts the rules, you disrespect the work of those who contribute their works to the greater community. And I wouldn't want to lose these developers--nor their awesome (usually) free applications.
Click the jump to find out the full details on LiberKey!
A coalition of some of the biggest names in the OSS world have banded together to create Open Source for America, a brand-new advocacy group that's going to try and highlight the advantages of open-source software to help achieve the goals set out in President Barack Obama's push for an open-data government. But as we pause to "ooh" and "ahh" at the list of companies and open-source celebrities contributing to the new group--Novell, the Mozilla Foundation, the EFF, Tim O'Reilly, and Mark Shuttleworth, amongst many others--let us not forget the uphill battle that the concept of "openness" tends to face in the government sector.
I just can't find myself getting that excited over open-source software when we still have fundamental issues of transparency and openness in governmental data. There's a wealth of information out there that's free and easily accessible to the public. But that doesn't mean that legislators, agencies, and departments are going out of their way to make this information as useful as it could be. In fact, it was only as recently as two months ago that the U.S. Senate itself opened up its own voting records for third-party applications and mashups.
Click the jump and put on your safety helmet--we're going data diving!
Open-source licensing can be a tricky beast. But it's not just aspiring software developers that need be concerned about the nuances of OSS licensing (or freeware licensing, for that matter). If you offer up apps on a CD or a Web site for others to grab, you're just as impacted by the parameters of licensing as anyone else. If you're just a downloader who's thinking, "why me? I just install cool programs," it behooves you to understand the differences between legitimate and illegal distribution models for the programs you fancy. While you, yourself, cannot be held accountable for another's licensing violation when you go to download software, you shouldn't encourage their efforts either. Playing by the rules is the only way to keep the spirit of open source alive.
That doesn't make open-source licensing any less confusing, however. Click the jump to find out why!