Maverick Meerkat Installed

Today I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu: 10.10 Maverick Meerkat. I burned both a cd and a dvd (for good measure) of the .iso file. Then I lugged an aging desktop that is not currently using Ubuntu (yes, it uses the “other” operating system!) downstairs and set it up in the kitchen so that I could plug it directly in to my router. You really want a wired connection to the Internet when you go to install Ubuntu. In fact, the new install screens specifically check for this and then give you the possibility of downloading additional software during the installation.

The installation was clean and smooth. I had a slight hiccup initially in getting my PC to boot from the install disc, but once I realized that I was being dim (hey, 6 months between installs and I forget things) everything proceeded in due order. I continued reading a book whilst the computer did what it had to do.

A clean install, however, was not what I was worried about. I’ve done lots of clean installs of Ubuntu over the years. Rather I was concerned about my sadly proprietary usb wireless adapter (a D-Link DWA-130). That was an inexpensive adapter I purchased some time ago when this non-wireless-card desktop moved out of reach of my router. It worked fine in the “other” operating system. But I knew from testing an Ubuntu release on cd a while back that this adapter does not work out of the box with Ubuntu. I would need to sort that out if I was going to be able to use this machine with this wireless adapter up in my office. That, or I would have to go purchase another adapter, checking first this time that I was getting something that was more ecumenical with respect to operating systems. (But oh, I hate to waste money like that!)

First I confirmed that in fact my wireless adpater does not work out of the box with Ubuntu 10.10. Second I did what any good computer hobbyist would do – I turned to Google. A quick search using “ubuntu usb wireless adapter” brought me to Ubuntu’s Docs on Wireless Cards. An excellent start. I took the advice at the top of the page and fired up a terminal window and typed: lsusb. That confirmed two things for me: 1) Ubuntu was in fact seeing my wireless adapter, and 2) the chipset my adapter was using (essential later for downloading the correct driver).

I learned that in order to use this wireless adapter, the best route would be to download the correct driver from the manufacturer, then install Ndiswrapper and Ndisgtk (a helpful interface for those who prefer to visit the command line and not necessarily live there). Where did I get the information on how to do this? From the Ubuntu Docs on Ndiswrapper, of course.

It helps to follow the instructions carefully. Don’t rush things. You will need to revisit the command line at points. For example, I needed to add a line to blacklist.conf in modprobe and that was easily handled via vi. A short bit of testing revealed that my wireless adapter was now working correctly. And this post is evidence of same.

I am looking forward to exploring more of the Maverick Meerkat now that I have an Ubuntu desktop in my office again.

Game on!

The bookend shouts of, “CAR!,” followed at a decent interval by, “GAME ON!,” are almost too typically Canadian to need much explanation. Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been largely out of the FOSS discussion for about a year. Or, as you might say, a decent interval. I feel like it is time for me to get back in the mix and thereby announce same with the traditional Canadian shout of, “GAME ON!”

Getting back in the FOSS swing of things isn’t so hard, really. I have not in fact been away, just quiet. Fortunately my re-emergence coincides with a couple of useful events almost in my back yard: DrupalCamp Toronto 2010 and FSOSS 2010.

I’ve been to a couple of FSOSS (Free Software and Open Source Symposium) meetings in the past. They are usually very well organised with a great selection of workshops and keynotes that cover a wide spectrum of issues and projects in the FOSS world. This year’s FSOSS looks just as impressive.

DrupalCamp is something different for me. I’ve started playing with (i.e. learning) Drupal on a couple of my websites recently. I had heard lots of good things about Drupal for years of course but this is the first time that I’ve started using it for real. I’m on a bit of a learning curve there but so far it is making sense. When I spotted DrupalCamp being mentioned on my local LUG list (well, I didn’t say I’d become a monk or anything!) I thought it would be worth investigating. So I’m heading up or over or down to Toronto for one day of the two-day Drupal Camp (although that day does include a keynote by Dries Buytaert so it should be interesting!). Time to learn a bit more about the Drupal community and see if there might be a place for me there.

If you are attending either DrupalCamp Toronto or FSOSS, do say hi. (I’ll be the short, quiet guy at the back of the room.)

It’s good to be back.

TransferSummit/UK in Oxford: 24-25 June 2010

If I were going to be in the UK in late June, I know where I would be heading. I would definitely be attending the impressive looking TransferSummit/UK organised by OSS Watch. With a host of fabulous speakers, including Stormy Peters, Martin Michlmayr, and even David Humphrey from The Seneca Centre for the Development of Open Technology (which is just down the road from where I live now, at least in Canadian terms), I certainly would have learned a lot and have had a great time. Maybe someone reading this blog will attend the event in my stead and report on how it goes.

Well done to Ross Gardler and the fine folks at OSS Watch for organising another super event.

P.S. And don’t forgot the BarCamp that will be taking place immediately following TransferSummit/UK!

Just another Karmic Koala

The other day, the same day it was released, I downloaded Ubuntu 9.10, Karmic Koala, and did a clean install on the Linux partition of my laptop. As you may notice if you follow this blog, I tend to do this every time there is a new Ubuntu release. It is so uneventful now (in terms of trauma) that I almost failed to mention it here. But I think it does merit mention, yet again, how refreshingly simple Ubuntu is to install and use. Each time I discover new aspects of Ubuntu, perhaps they are new features but since I don’t keep up with Ubuntu chatter I’m not aware of when they were added to the mix. And I learn one or two new things each time. For example, this time I learned how to get my Linux install to handle those region 1 and region 2 DVDs, of which I have many (the curse of starting one’s collection whilst living in the UK and then moving back to Canada), and it was so easy. Strictly speaking I don’t need Ubuntu to do that for me – we have a Windows desktop (now somewhat aging) on which we watch films. And I am not keen to support these restrictive proprietary formats even tacitly. But it is nice to know that if I had to, I could play the DVDs that I have purchased from reputable commercial outlets on the operating system of my choice.

For the moment I remain with a dual-boot Dell laptop running Windows Vista and, now, Ubuntu 9.10. Increasingly it seems less and less necessary for me to preserve my Windows partition. Perhaps when I find that I spend nearly 100% of my computing time in Ubuntu I will simply forget that I have Windows on this machine as well. And that may be the right time to jettison it altogether. Meanwhile I will continue to enjoy each new release of Ubuntu and, as ever, look forward to the next one.

What I look for in project governance

A lot of my FOSS friends are busy these days thinking about Foundations, not-for-profit organisations, and Associations. This kind of thinking is almost always useful. But I do not have much of substance to contribute to such a discussion. Instead I thought I would spend a few words and minutes setting down what I look for in FOSS project governance. These are merely my personal reflections. I would not be surprised if they do not have universal application.

To be clear, I am not a vendor of software or of software services. And I do not work for a vendor of software. So the concerns of vendors, though I am certain they are perfectly valid, are not my concerns.

When I consider whether or not I want to spend any of my personal time involving myself with a FOSS project, the first thing I look for is how it governs itself. This is my time (and effort) that I am contributing. And while my time (and effort) is no more valuable than anyone else’s, it is no less valuable either. How a project values my participation is expressed, I think, through the way it governs itself.

For example, I do not want to participate in a project where the voice someone has within the project depends on something that is not directly related to the contribution they have made within this very project. It seems to me that it makes good sense for some people to have commit rights for the code and for others not to have those rights. But that only makes sense if the route to attaining commit access is a result of contributions made to the project. And it must be at least possible for me similarly to attain such rights, given sufficient contributions of my time (and effort). If that is not possible, then clearly my contributions are not being equally valued. I will go elsewhere.

Who would be in an appropriate position to judge whether my contributions were of sufficient worth to merit my gaining commit rights? I can only imagine that it would be those who themselves have already attained such a position due to the strength of their own contributions. And thus the meritocracy.

I imagine there are many occasions when a project could go in one direction or a different direction. How do such decisions get made? The particulars do not matter so much to me. What matters is whether my opinion, as a project participant, counts and whether it counts equally with the opinions of others. Yet, again, I do not think that counting equally means a project needs to devolve all decision-making to mere majority voting. It seems obvious to me that some participants will have more experience than I do. They will have made longer term or more substantial contributions. It seems right to me that they should have a greater voice in current decision-making about the direction that the project should take. In part this greater responsibility will already have been signalled by the project because these individuals will have commit access to the codebase. And even within those with commit rights, there may need to be a further level of distinction such as a project management committee. This could help the project make some of its decisions. I can even imagine projects where ultimately there is a final authority, a single individual, who casts deciding ballots when necessary. But I cannot imagine participating in such a project unless there is some route by which I too might eventually attain such a position and that such attainment would be based upon the contributions I had made to the project.

And so it comes back to whether or not my contributions of time (and effort) are equally valued. It seems to me that there are many, many ways to organise the particulars of project governance each of which express this principle. There are also, I’m sure, many examples of projects that forego such equality of participation. That’s fine. I have no wish to insist that all projects conform to my ideals. Since this is my time (and effort) we are talking about, I can simply vote with my feet. I will go elsewhere.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that over time more and more projects will move toward the view that all participation needs to be valued equally. And from this starting point they will organise themselves in different ways which they think best expresses that belief.

One final observation. It seems obvious to me that if a project does organise itself in such a way in which each participant’s contribution is valued equally, the project will want to make this clear to one and all. It may lay out just such a principle when it explains how participation in the project works. More, however, I would expect the project to be telling me how decisions are made, how commit access is attained, what I need to do to get started and how I will be able to move through whichever levels of contribution the project has deemed necessary. When a project website does not explain very, very clearly how my participation will be valued, I almost immediately head for the exit.

I hope there will be more thinking and talking about Foundations, and not-for-profit organisations, and Associations amongst the FOSS projects that I have an interest in. I think it is usually a sign that the project is heading toward some sort of clarity about its own governance. And that kind of clarity can only help, if only to help me decide whether I want to continue to participate in the project.