Elementary OS – Feeling like paying them?

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I’ve advocated Linux and free software for years.  I still do.

Over the years I’ve also stated many times that proprietary software (and indeed software running on any other license) is fine with me, so long as the user is aware of the limitations and potential consequences of such licence.  That to me is choice, choice on the back of an informed decision and its also choice for the developers.

Elementary OS has a press release on their blog asking users to consider what they pay (or don’t pay) when they download their operating system.

we’ve decided to revise how we promote and handle payments. 

Now the first point is there is nothing wrong with charging money for work and time invested in a project.  Nothing at all.  Elementary OS is fully within its right to want to pay people for the time and work they have put in.  That’s fine.  Where I see the problem is when requests or payment start becoming more of a play on guilt, rather than a request for support.  Let me explain.

I firstly don’t use Elementary OS and certainly for the people over the years I’ve installed Linux for, there are far better (or at least just as good) distro’s in my opinion.  But that’s academic, people do use Elementary OS and I’m sure there are many happy users of it.

We want users to understand that they’re pretty much cheating the system when they choose not to pay for software. We didn’t exclude a $0 button to deceive you; we believe our software really is worth something.

And if I hadn’t read it on the Elemental OS page I wouldn’t have believed it.   Users who don’t/can’t pay are “pretty much” cheating the system?  Fine.  Don’t let them.  Don’t let a user get something for free if you don’t think they should and want paying.  Make it a purchase download.  Have the Elemental OS developers confidence in their product to do this?  It seems not, because if they truly think people are cheating the system by getting something for free then they should remove the ability to get it for free.  Whilst they give a reason for this, we can look at it later in the article.

If you are about to buy a new car and the salesperson says “well you can pay ##### for it or you can get it for free” which one will people choose in the main?  Its a perfectly normal reaction for people to seek out the cheaper option to save money and that goes no matter what pay scale you are on.   There are of course people who will pay regardless and to them any developer should be grateful.

This maybe highlights a big issue of open source software.  Whilst its turning out some of the best packages, there comes a time when someone, somewhere wants paying.  It’s the way of the world and until such time we live in a Star Trek future, things are not going to change.

I would love a world where all software was open source, available to all, but I understand why Elementary OS would want payment.  What I disagree with is the approach they take.  If for a minute all distro’s went pay only and I was buying one, it wouldn’t be Elementary OS.  I’ve my favourites and that isn’t one of them.

And it’s not like we’re making money to buy yachts;

And after the “cheating” comment, we seem to have a justification, is this saying “Hey, give us some cash, we are not living lavish lifestyles here” – fine, develop software elsewhere then.  Better yet, write your own OS from scratch, make it great and then you can have the yachts and you can “rightfully” retain the source code for yourselves.

It’s about asking a fair price to offset the costs of development. It’s about securing the future of elementary OS to ensure we can keep making software that millions of people love and use every day.

Millions of people? Where does this figure come from?  Total downloads? How do they know?  – I don’t want to get into a debate about how many desktop linux users there are on the planet, but looking at Distro Watch as an indicator (non scientific) it ranks Elementary as 9 (and down 900 views)  If the “millions of people love and use” had been referring to Mint I may have agreed.  I would go as far as to say if Mint was a forced purchase and Elementary OS was completely gratis, I’d go for Mint every time.

Another comment, seeming to me to be made in haste:

While we could rightfully disallow free downloads, someone else could take our open source code, compile it, and give it away for free. So there’s no point in completely disallowing it.

Let me change that a little.  Firstly let me ask Elementary to re-read the license.  Then they can add the word “rightfully” to the part that says “give it away for free” also.    And to be fair, I don’t think people would go to the bother of compiling the code and releasing OS free, with so many distro choices, it would be just another re-invention of the wheel and I can’t think of any feature Elementary OS has that is unique to the distro and hankered after by users that couldn’t be adequately accommodated in another distro.    Maybe someone can help there?  I can’t believe its Desktop is the unique feature/selling point in a world where we are migrating rapidly towards the web-based for all but the most traditional of packages. (Talking mainstream users now)

Most of the open source world is similar; Inkscape and GIMP

Distro’s are 10 a penny I’d suggest and in my view Elementary OS is not the definitive desktop Linux distro.   With Inkscape and GIMP all the developers efforts are focused to one project, that one project appears on many distro’s and other platforms.  The idea of contributing to the GIMP devs, I’d suggest is very different to that of a distro, where I’d guess if you used 1 different distro every day for a year you’d still have some left over at the New Year party.  Is that a bad thing in my view?  Not at all.  But putting this sort of approach on your users is a little out of order in my view because they have so much already to choose from.

If we want to see the world of open source software grow, we should encourage users to pay for its development; ……..or developers will have to resort to backdoor deals and advertising.

Reality check here.  The world of open source is growing and its not growing by distro’s or software putting on a guilt trip to their users.   There are many who will find ways to make money from it and best of luck to them, but lets not assume that anyone who comes along and “makes a few changes” is welcome to financial reward.  If you want something from your work, get a job working in a proprietary software house, release proprietary software.  Don’t start working on open source projects and then complain when you’re not getting the lifestyle of Bill Gates.  And back-door deals? what is that supposed to mean? advertising? shovelware? or are you playing on the paranoia of some that certain distro’s can and will be infected by government code set to spy?  Are the Elementary OS team suggesting that if you don’t pay we have a future of shady government deals with code set to intrude on your private life?  Just what are they saying from vague warning they give?

All quotes are from the Elementary OS blog:

Musing: Microsoft to offer its software on Linux – A theoretical consideration.

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Microsoft has a new CEO, Microsoft doesn't have as much a hold on tech as it did.  What would happen if it moved its flagship product to Linux?
Microsoft has a new CEO, Microsoft doesn’t have as much a hold on tech as it did. What would happen if it moved its flagship product to Linux?

This musing comes as a result of a topic brought up over on Usenet.

The crux of this article is around a fictitious headline of:


Take a few seconds to consider how you would feel, then maybe be kind enough to hear my view.

So it’s great? Microsoft’s flagship product now available to those who in the past had only LO, Abiword etc to chose from.  Now you can run natively on your Linux box that which Windows users have been for years.

Bad idea? Yes completely, here’s why.  Let me just add before someone mentions it, yes I know Microsoft produces code for the Kernel.  Have I an issue? No, because in that respect it is as part of a team of developers who all have various quality checks and testing – kernel devs don’t mindlessly accept all code and say “cheers mate” as they paste it in with a text editor.  The process I’d suggest is more complex and even if Microsoft wanted to (which I’m sure it wouldn’t) there’s little chance of anything “naughty” going on there.  So for me, Microsoft contributions are welcomed, if with a little surprise at myself saying that.

Microsoft moving its products to Linux? Different matter.  I should say that my feelings about Microsoft having its product on Linux would be similar with any large corp, Adobe or anyone else.  This article isn’t so much a critical piece on Microsoft in that respect because this is only a theoretical question and to my knowledge Microsoft have not discussed or made moves to bring say Office to Desktop Linux.

Microsoft, like any large corp can afford losses much easier than most.  They can sell or provide at a loss for a long period in order to recoup the amount later.  Bill Gates (to use an example) was quoted as saying:

About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don’t pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.

And to be fair, large corps can have long term strategies where small ones cannot. Its smaller ones that we are going to consider.  I’m not going to use the name of a real Linux distro because its unfair to second guess what they would do, so for the purposes here, lets say the most popular distro is Really Good Goblin Linux (or RGGL)

So RGGL gets in its flashy app store Microsoft Office.  Do you think its beyond the realms of possibility that Microsoft would want people (and the store) to favour its product?  I think its very reasonable.  Large firms don’t make money by giving it to competition.  Large firms don’t give a swift handshake and a “Jolly good show” to a competitor when they lose a sale.  So could it be reasonably considered that Microsoft could offer the Distro maker incentives for sales of their product over the other alternatives in the store? A sort of commission? I’d say yes.

Is that fair? Well its possible, if Microsoft spend money on development, bring it to Linux, they are going to want a return.  They are not going to say “Before you buy our product, check out Libre Office first”.  How could Libre Office compete with a Microsoft marketing machine on Linux?  What if Microsoft gave it away with a view to charge later?  When we look to the past allegations against Microsoft, that doesn’t seem too unrealistic.

And we know Microsoft deals in huge amounts of money, we know that Microsoft can and does market aggressively.  So here is our RGGL and their app store.  Here is Microsoft with their investment and wallet full of money.  What do you think will happen?  I’m not necessarily suggesting anything underhanded, I’m suggesting business – big business from a firm who in the past has been to court and been accused of quite a few dodgy practices.  It may not happen, but I think its reasonable to suggest and certainly cause enough for concern for me to say that out of choice I’d not like to see Office on Linux.

We don’t have to cast our minds back far when Canonical and Amazon news was released.   Now whilst then it wasn’t anything like Microsoft bringing Office to Linux, we can see that when you have partnerships, people can get upset.

One of the general arguments for Office on Linux is that it would bring more users to desktop Linux.  I’d say no because peoples need (either imagined or real) for Windows is far more than just Microsoft products, products which they would be needing to look at using Wine as an alternative.  Wine is excellent but for a new Linux user straight from Windows trying Wine to get other binaries working? I’d say that’s not ideal and I don’t think on the strength of Microsoft’s Office suite alone you’d get users moving from Windows to Linux.

And what of the Linux users now? What of the FOSS advocates? Will they warm to the idea? Would they be buying the Microsoft products that until now have not been native to Linux?  I’d say no in the main, I’d say the Microsoft of the past and the fact its a proprietary office suite would stop purchase.

So would this be bad for Microsoft? Well I thnk so.  If I think Windows users have more than Office in their Windows needs in the main, then I can’t see either home or business turning around and saying “Right, pack the bags, Office is on Linux, we’re leaving”

Moving outside of Microsoft and looking at the general picture, we need get away from the circle of proprietary file formats.  We have fantastic packages here promoting the use of open formats and providing a great end user experience.  Libre Office and what its dev team provides to millions of people around the planet is outstanding and its not there to keep you in any ecosystem, its merely providing great software and accessibility for all. This is but one example – but its relevant to the subject at hand.

We are slowly moving towards less of a locally based application ecosystem.  In the cloud, software as a service, web based – all words thrown about and used to show that we are moving away from the idea of having apps and working “traditionally”.  There are users with concerns here and unfortunately for those they will ultimately end up wherever the mainstream masses decide.   And the mainstream masses in my view have very little concern.  If they did then all the allegations about Facebook et al would have seen a mass exodus overnight. – This further reinforces that this musing is merely theoretical and in the future it will be all about services rather than OS’s for users and its this reason why I think Microsoft’s future plans will not be looking at other platforms for their software, but rather web-based services/apps that can be sold to anyone with a browser.

If you believe that Office coming to Linux would be a good thing, I’d love for you to have your say.  Maybe there is facet of this view missing? Maybe you can offer another outcome to my views about Office on Linux? – This article was written on the back of some disagreement in Usenet.

As always though, thanks for reading.

Tails: An essential distro or an accessory to compliment a tin foil hat for the average user?

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We live in a world of many perceptions.  Some people believe government is your friend, some believe government is watching your every move ready to pounce if you speak out and there’s some that believe the government is in co-hoots with aliens from another planet.  There’s David Icke who in his books will tell you about trans-dimensional lizards that control the planet and their hybrids which have infiltrated high ranking positions of power.   So with all these theories (and many more in-between) there needs to be a distro to step up to the mark and have your back covered.  – I say that with a little glint in my eye.

We have seen news reports of mass surveillance.  I don’t need to repeat to anyone the revelations about GCHQ and all the related articles which have come about as a result.  I have though taken a chance to look at this distro further and ask, are we really at this level of paranoia or fear?  I’ve made no secret of having my computing life in the cloud.  Whilst I may not buy into the hype of Google Glass (please see earlier articles) I do use, enjoy and get value from the many Google services I use.  For example at present time, locally I have used only about 40mb of my SSD whilst every other file is up there on the cloud.  My local files are those which are sync’d with the drive just so that in-case of net outage or no coverage, I can still exercise a modicum of productivity.

I’ll start this review by saying I don’t trust the government in many areas.  I think there is a great difference between what they say, what they think and what they do.  I think that use events to further their goals, but are we being set up (as some would say) for a world where a government controls and monitors every aspect of our lives 1984 style? No.  I don’t think so.  It seems though Hollywood is an integral part of the more extreme conspiracy theorists world view and a seemingly reasonable concern (as in privacy in general) can be stretched out of all proportion akin to a Hollywood blockbuster.

Looking at Tails

For those that don’t know, Tails offers complete privacy (or close to) by way of Tor, its a Debian based distro provided as a bootable image and the idea is you place it on a USB or DVD so that when you turn off the machine, no data is stored locally.  Whilst the distro is aimed at the “mainstream average user” I cannot see any other user having issues configuring or indeed using any other distro (with the correctly installed tools) to do exactly the same thing.

You’ve got OpenOffice, GIMP, Audacity included for your other needs and they don’t need any further explanation.

From the site:

Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.

To which I ask, since when has a geolocation had an ounce of accuracy? And so what if the sites you visit are noticed by those in power?  I know there are some countries where people are not privy to the freedoms of here in the UK or US but what is the issue here?  If my ISP wants to document and keep every single site I visit then fine, if government wants to look through that list then so be it.  How does this have any impact on me or anyone else?  Why should I care?

Living by a computing life that is almost the antithesis of Tails, have I suffered anything negative experience? No.  Here’s another “selling” point from the homepage of Tails:

connect to services that would be censored 

If we are talking about a torrent site, as the UK ISP’s found when forced by court order to block them, just as quickly proxy alternatives sprung into action rendering the court order pretty worthless.  I suppose for residents of countries who take exception to free speech and opinion then this would be useful, but here in the UK? or the US?

Taking this “fear” to the next level, even Tails with its tweaked apps that facilitate privacy via Tor network, you can still be watched of sorts, because the issue here is the Tor exit nodes.  But thats something which I won’t spend any more time explaining as I’m trying to look at this distro individually as an option for the desktop and this is not a discussion about privacy or encryption.

Whilst the mainstream user may be in mind for this distro, people who use it with no clue as to how it works are taking a leap of faith.  If they are not coders and that paranoid how do they know that Tails has no secret backdoors? The word of others? What if Tails or similar distro has been infiltrated by evil men in black who want people trying to hide their identity to use their distro?

Of course I’m taking things to extremes here, but if the paranoid can do it, why can’t I?

Tails wipes RAM on shut down but I’m sorry, I cannot see RAM having any use to anyone when the power is off the machine.  Data residue? Show me – don’t buy it sorry.  Maybe people get RAM mixed up with EPROM? or, as I’ve found with many people who are not tech interested, they get RAM and HD space mixed up – thinking they are one and the same.

I did get a chuckle from this comment on their homepage:

1 GB of RAM to work smoothly. Tails is known to work with less memory but you might experience strange behaviours

Because with some of the paranoid people I’ve met, “strange behaviours” are a part of everyday life.

I say that those who understand these issues and have concerns will be able to set their own distro to function in much the same way as Tails if they wish.  Mainstream users with a concern can use this, but its hardly cutting edge stuff.  As for me, I’ll continue my computing life as I am and am very happy with ChromeOS and my Chromebook.

When the agents knock at my door or a helicopter starts hovering outside the window – I’ll let you know.

You can get your Tails download at:

And tin foil can be found in many stores around the UK.

* Please accept my apologies for the flippant and sarcastic tone in this article – I am simply having problems fathoming the levels to which paranoia has reached these days.

Linux Distro’s, FOSS and the advocates behind them – Some food for thought?

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Since 2008 when OpenBytes was created as a platform to highlight the benefits of GNU/Linux and FOSS itself, little did I know that even though I’ve always kept a foot in the door for the new user (and certainly not gone down the “all or nothing” route some advocates have taken) I too was guilty of forgetting that a “simple to use Distro” is maybe simple to anyone who has had more than a small interest in computers, but the vast majority of people who use their computers have no interest in what’s going on under the hood.   They have no interest in source code (if they even know what it is) and do not see the advantages of FOSS because in their computing lifetime they will not see any benefit to them.  Of course you can argue that even if the end-user is unaware of what FOSS is, they are still unknowingly, gaining benefits of updates, forks or whatever in the future.

I would hope people read the whole (if somewhat long) article because these are my conclusions of many years advocating FOSS and Linux, talking to (and forming good friendships) with the people involved.  I think you will find, if you look back over my years of views that my opinions documented here are no different from those in 2008.  Is this a closure article now my writing interests are diversifying? No, not at all.  For those that don’t know, I’m currently awaiting a release date for my novel and I’m still focused on technology and FOSS, I merely now have less time to dedicate to a subject which is very dear to me.  Over the years I’ve met many advocates of free software, some good and some rather bad.  Bad for many reasons but I do notice a large amount of self claimed “advocates” who have no online presence (except for their posts in forums) who would have you believe in an all or nothing approach and if you can look past their hypocritical (and sometimes vulgar) opinions, I find these people as harmful to would be new Linux and FOSS users as the ones who do anything they can to prevent people using it.

This article has been inspired somewhat by a group of people who for many years (for reasons unknown) have targeted Linux newsgroups and forums with the sole purpose of disrupting the advocacy that occurs.  These “people” will use any means necessary in order to do that and looking at the amount of posts they make all day every day, one has to conclude that either they have a financial interest in free software being hobbled in the eyes of the mainstream, or worse, they merely have nothing else to do but post all day.  One chap in particular who I believe falls into the later category has recently (on top of thousands of words in posts daily) taken to making videos to highlight these “major issues” with Linux.  Now just what an allegedly married man with kids and a computer business is thinking of spending so much time in this way is anyone’s guess but it did help to inspire this article.

Let me give an example of this “man’s” work.  Recently he took to posting a video showing that using KDE and Dolphin file manager, if you put a file to trash then replaced it back to where it came from (in that example the desktop) you couldn’t edit it because of its privileges been changed to read only.  Having not had a need in the past myself this came as a surprise, so I tried it on one of my rig’s.  XFCE DE and PCManFM.  The issue was not emulated and the read/write privileges for that file remained intact, however this example proves two things.  Firstly the depth some people will go to in order to discredit free software and two, for the casual user of tech, did you even understand what I meant by all this?

Who is Linux aimed at?

Most distro’s would boast that they are aimed at new user and expert alike.  Now there are many types of Linux user – the seasoned expert, the casual “know enough” user and the brand spanking new non tech interested user who merely wants to do whatever they do on the computer without having to think about whats running underneath.

Most distro’s hit two of those groups well.  The expert doesn’t need any assistance at all and the casual user has usually dabbled enough to know exactly what they need to do.  The brand new user is a completely different kettle of fish so to speak and this is where Linux fails.

Lets look at Peppermint which is a distro I think very highly of.  Installation was very simple, however it was very simple to someone who has installed Linux before and been presented with less user-friendly options.  Think of one of your non-tech interested friends who use computers regularly – that might even be you reading this article now.  What’s a proprietary driver? Peppermint for example makes it very easy to install these, but if you are not interested in computing, would you know what this meant?  – This is but one example where advocacy and Linux distro’s need to take ownership and realize that if they are to appeal to the mainstream user, these things must be clear, simple and to the point, otherwise it’s another facet of Linux which is a barrier to a new user adopting it.

Whilst the example of file permissions video is an extreme example of a business owner (allegedly) who seems to have more free time than business, it does highlight another issue of Linux – conformity.  I am unclear as to if his discovery is a bug, or maybe some well-intentioned feature, but if indeed it is a feature which the mainstream user wanted, it’s a barrier straight away.

But Linux choice is great?

Absolutely.  I like the fact that I can use KDE on my higher spec’d machine and XFCE where resources are limited – And see? There we go again, advocacy of choice – baffling to anyone wanting to try a different OS for a better experience.  Lets give another example.  I had a friend who wanted to try Linux – mainly because they had been told the experience would be faster than the one they were experiencing currently.  They had performed a little research themselves beforehand and discovered that Linux is sometimes called Ubuntu, sometimes Mint, maybe Sabayon – You get the idea.  Now if the concept of  “flavours” of Linux is not baffling enough, you then have mention of DE’s, file managers and all manner of choices. – All this is great for people who know what this stuff is, but I’d suggest that about 90% of the desktop users have no interest in these things and merely want their computer to perform a task, they may want a faster experience or a more secure one, but as to what is going on underneath, whether the software is proprietary or not, is of no concern.  The majority of users have one computing requirement: “It does what I want it to as quickly as possible and no problems”.  Anything less than this from an OS that is different from the one they’ve used for years and they will go running back to that which they previously used – better the devil you know.

Ethical Software

Proprietary drivers are a good example.  Lets forget about gaming, but on all the rigs I’ve run and installed Linux on, the better performance comes from using proprietary drivers.  Sorry if that offends some people.  Sorry if that’s “evil”, but its the fact.  In fact my experience of the free drivers has been a hit and miss affair.  Whilst I advocate free software, I’m not prepared to gloss over the fact that (certainly on all the set-ups I’ve used) proprietary drivers have performed better.  Now you tell me, if you were to introduce Linux and free software to your Windows using neighbour, would they be interested in listening to a talk on free software and then not having proprietary software in favour of “ethical” software?  I’m sorry – The mainstream are not interested.  Who cares? It’s software? – To be fair to their apathy towards software ethics there are more important things in this world to have a conscience about and even for me, an advocate and user of free software, the “evils” and the “ethics” of free software are well down the list of important issues in the world.

Richard Stallman – A help or hindrance?

There are fewer people who have done more to promote the benefits of free software than Richard Stallman.  Anyone who has followed Mr Stallmans work over the years will see that not only does he have a firm opinion but also sticks with what he says and lives his computing life exactly to his viewpoints with software – that in itself is something worthy of much praise and I hope in the future, he plays a very large part in the computing history books.  But in his dedications I certainly think there are flaws, not flaws in what he says, more flaws in what is expected by him.

In my view, the very last person to appeal to the mainstream non-tech interested user is Mr Stallman. This is not because he is rude or aggressive in his delivery, nor is he aloof or patronizing, its more his unswerving view towards everything which he regards as “ethical”.  For users of free software, Mr Stallman is interesting and provides much food for thought.  For a new user, I would guess he’s baffling, restrictive and certainly not promoting a desirable alternative to say Windows or Mac.  Let me explain.

If we agree that around 90% of the computer using populus have no tech interest, I think we can also say that the vast majority of those non-tech interested also like “fluff” – the bells and whistles that are provided on a new machine when they first switch it on.  Proprietary drivers running in the background, a few proprietary games.  I think you can imagine the type of system they will be running.

Now lets consider what RMS would “approve of” this is rather difficult for me since through the hours of footage I’ve seen of Mr Stallman, he seems more geared around what you shouldn’t use.  But lets imagine something which Mr Stallman would approve of, now imagine presenting that to your Windows using neighbour who doesn’t care about software ethics (or having source code to anything) once you imagine that, I would hope you can see the problem.

The Linux and FOSS world seem to me to be intrinsically linked together in a sort of “all or nothing” type world.  I argue that the reverse should be true.  Why not use Linux yet use proprietary software?  Why not say have a proprietary Operating System and use free software? – If I go to an open air music festival it doesn’t mean I want to wear flowers in my hair and live in a caravan near to Stonehenge.

So what is my answer?

Firstly I think that Linux advocacy needs to be directed at the new user who knows absolutely nothing and has no real interest.  Anyone who does know and you’re merely preaching to the converted.  It’s all well and good RMS talking about software ethics, but the only people he is reaching out to in my opinion are the ones who are already in the know and have made their own decisions.

I think the mainstream distro’s have a responsibility (even with their simple to use installation) to explain and take the users through the steps – the proprietary drivers being an example.  Maybe even have a two option installer, one for the total beginner and one for people whom are comfortable or already know?

I think we also need to speak softly in the ear of the “all or nothing” folk who preach the ethics of free software.  These people whilst get the favour and ear of those in the know do nothing to show the mainstream the value of coming over to Linux.  The aim should be to introduce new users slowly, not throw them in the digital deep and see if they sink.  People (believe it or not) can make up their own mind on where they stand on proprietary, after they have moved from a Windows or Mac machine to Linux.

Hypocrisy? – The Linux gaming and other questions.

Open source gaming can offer many hours of entertainment.  I have reviewed and played many RPG’s which are open source and they have been great.  But when considering the value of open source software, gaming should not be used as an example and I don’t think open source gaming will ever get mainstream penetration for the reasons I list below:

Most of the “popular” open source games are WIP’s.  Whilst the source is open for everyone, how many people have the skills to benefit from it? and why would a hardcore gamer (or a user whom gaming plays a large part in) want’s to play a game whose code (and game is in a state of flux).  People don’t go out and get Grand Theft Auto 5 with a promise “Don’t worry you’ll be able to ride motorcycles in the next version” or “We’ve got someone working on some great features, I know your gun doesn’t shoot straight, but next version we’ll have that sorted”.  Sure, proprietary gaming does have updates, there are sometimes massive problems with proprietary gaming, but as a rule, when you get the latest Grand Theft Auto or similar you get a complete game thats ready to go.  Todays gamer wants it now.  They want it complete.  Open Source gaming does not offer this and even if it did, if we take the popular Alien Arena (FPS) and put it on the PS3 against proprietary alternatives, would it be given a look in? I’d say no.

Many that call themselves open source advocates would disagree with me and list games which are open source and popular and I’ll agree, there are popular games but with todays gamers, can we honestly say Tux Racer offers something more than the experience they would get with say Mario Kart? Is there any benefit Tux Racer has being open source which would appeal or entice the mainstream gamer? I’d say no.  Sorry – the game has a team of dedicated hard-working contributors, the game itself is fun, but it in no way compares to a proprietary equivalent at all.  Want to argue? Try showing Tux Racer to your WII owning neighbour who plays Mario Kart, see what they say.

Now we come to the hypocrisy of some advocates of free software.  Free software is great? Open source is great? Well I’d agree and one of the most popular examples of free software is the emulator.  Retro computing from yesteryear that’s open source. Good idea? Well of course it is.  Emulators are being used in many Linux distro’s and in fact Puppy Arcade dedicates itself to emulating a plethora of old systems that you’ve heard of (and some that you havent).  The trouble is for the open source world is that whilst the popular emulators are open-source, the software which they are designed to run isnt.  A fact which gets conveniently overlooked by some.  It also highlights my point that if open source gaming is so great, how is it that emulators are far more popular and the software being run is proprietary?

The Raspberry PI has been hailed by many as a great piece of kit (and it is, without doubt) but even the PI is running (in some cases) proprietary software with use of emulators.  If your emulator is open source does that discount the “evil” proprietary? I’d say in the case of many of the FOSS advocates it does since they remain very quiet.  I’d expect a boycott of emulators (for the reasons stated above) from them, but instead we don’t get it. (Maybe they are too busy playing SNES Super Mario?)

The market share of Desktop Linux is always up on debate – and I care not for the actual figure.  For the purposes of this article, lets just say it’s between 1-10% (please don’t debate this figure it’s merely for illustration purposes of the point) and I think the contributing factor to the share remaining quite small is that the unrelenting “all or nothing” view pushed by some of the more vocal advocates.

“But open source software is better for the user because  there are no back doors people know exactly what the program is doing!”  Rubbish.  Let me take a current example to highlight this.  But lets firstly remove this myth.  Whilst yes, having the source available enables any back doors to be identified, for the majority of users how do you know that the software your package manager has installed is the same as the source? and even if it is, would you be able to trawl through the code and identify a back-door? I’d suggest the vast majority of open source users (even the experts) would have neither the time or expertise to do that.  It’s ok if you are running a simple little Python script to identify anything untoward, but a binary with thousands of pages of accompanying code? Best of luck.  The other myth about back doors (as current news shows) is that its nothing to do with the software you are running on your machine.  For example, if my Google Mail is being looked at by a government agency, the fact I use Linux and FOSS has no effect on that what so ever.  If my Google drive is being examined, do you think it even factors in that I use FOSS? Of course not.  In addition, if someone wanted to monitor my online activities, then with a court order this could be done at an ISP level. The fact I run Linux or FOSS software again would have no bearing.

In closing

There will never be (in my opinion) a world where there is only open source software and unless the consumer (and that’s a key word here) demands it, there will be no dramatic shift (certainly in the gaming market) towards it.  You only have to look at the most popular BitTorrent client on Windows – it’s not open source, its proprietary, now with the plethora of choice even on Windows for the BT client, why is it that the one which is proprietary is the popular one? It’s because the mainstream don’t care.  You won’t convince them.  So if Linux is to gain further adoption on the desktop (which itself is seeing a decline) then you need to cut back on your “ethics” and consider the “market” in which you are introducing it.  You don’t need to tell me about the benefits and ethics of FOSS.  You probably don’t need to tell most of the people who are reading this (as we already know).  But above all, you certainly don’t want to be preaching it to uninterested potential new users.  You’ll drive them away and back into the arms of a welcoming proprietary environment, that doesn’t baffle them or preach ethics and merely presents them with what they want.


Peppermint 4 – An OS for everyone? & The Probem of Linux Advocacy

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Its been a while since I wrote a distro review on Openbytes and its also been a while since I visited Peppermint developments.  To this day I still have a Netbook (Acer) which many years ago I installed Peppermint on and whilst in the days of tablets and just about every device in your house having a CPU and net access, I’ve not been back to see how the project has progressed as far as the rigs I’m using today.  I have written this review rather differently and taken into account readers and users who may have little interest in the “bones” of computing and merely want a decent computing experience, for those people the sections are marked as “new user” although if “experts” want to have a look, I’m sure a few of them will feel slightly perturbed by some of my observations of them.  This review serves two purposes for me, one to highlight Peppermint which I recently looked back into and another to highlight where Linux (as far as advocacy of others) has gone a little wrong over the years with it’s “do as I say” or “you can’t do that” attitude.

Its interesting for me to look back at my original review (found here: ) as it was a time when cloud computing was still gaining traction.  There were fears about storing your data on the cloud, fears about using web based apps (or machines that required a permanent net connection to be fully functional) and people still harboured strong feelings to owning “physical” things – the idea’s of app purchases or indeed pay for streaming, were still seen by many as things of the future. – One look at the volume of app purchases on mobile devices today suggests to me that the majority of users are boldly moving into “non-physical” purchases at warp 10.  Back in May 2010 when I first looked at Peppermint, I had reservations, but unlike some of the more vocal “do it our way or not at all” GNU/Linux/FOSS advocates, I kept more of a “lets see” attitude.  Whilst the rights or wrongs of cloud computing and non-physical purchases still have the jury out, it was obvious to me at the time which way the wind was blowing with the mainstream consumer.

I digress, back to the Peppermint 4 review which offers itself in both 32 and 64bit flavours for the user.

Running the LXDE desktop environment, Peppermint 4 begins the race at a fast pace.  After selecting it at boottime via the GRUB menu (please see below), its about 20 seconds from being Net ready.  Peppermint has always focused more towards the cloud computing ethos, so the installed apps (as in locally stored) are few in number and mostly relate to system admin/config utilities you will require when refining your desktop.

You’ll find a media player, bittorrent client and IRC client amongst the locally installed applications, however most of your other needs will be served via web based applications through what is called ICE (again see below)


Peppermint offers a very simple and straight forward approach to installing, infact its doubtful if you will really want to start changing things (especially if you are a new user) and one of the things it offers you is to dual boot (that is to install Peppermint along side whatever operating system is already on your machine)

Since I don’t wear a tin foil hat, I facilitate the Chromium ability to store all my passwords, links, history.  For me as soon as the installation was complete (about 30mins on a very slow net connection) I was able to log into Chromium and have my browser exactly the same as it was in my other OS, complete with all my links and saved passwords.


As was touched on above, the majority of local applications (those installed on your harddrive) relate to modifying your system and customizing it for your needs.  Tranmission the BT client is one of the exceptions, as to are the media players.

You’ve got Google integration (for your drive etc) here already, although to be fair, any distro can be set up in the same way in a matter of seconds, but the nice thing here is that Peppermint is, (as far as installation of local applications goes) a bare-bones system which offers complete functionality at first boot.  Dropbox is also present, but most users (both expert and not) spend most of their time in the browser (I’d guess)

Here we have the Twiter website, running through browser/app ICE, as you can see it almost looks like a local app on the desktop.
Here we have the Twiter website, running through browser/app ICE, as you can see it almost looks like a local app on the desktop.


As I said many years ago Peppermint OS is a great system.  Whilst it has a strong leaning to the cloud, it does not force you down that route and is a powerful Linux distribution that will run very quickly on your hardware.  Peppermint is not bogged down with “fluff” and packages that you won’t use, since most of the software is browser based, removing it is merely removing a link.

In the past, I’ve crossed paths with some of the Peppermint team (in a good way) and they are a dedicated, friendly team who have remained true to their vision of a Linux distribution all these years.  Peppermint is a reflection of this dedication which doesn’t force you to adopt their vision, merely presents you with a very fast operating system which you can customize to your own needs very simply and regardless of how much of a toe you dip into the cloud world, Peppermint will serve your needs very well.

Whilst my Acer Aspire One with its old version of Peppermint gets little use now (its tablets, Playstations and desktop’s in our house) I can certainly see Peppermint remaining on my main rig now for a considerable time.  Maybe that’s an indicator that my usage of computers has changed? Or maybe it’s simply that like it or not, the cloud is inevitable and the best way to stay on-top of this without having to put all your eggs in one basket, is with Peppermint.

The GNU/LINUX experts (for new Linux users)

“Experts” come in all shapes and sizes with probably some of the most intimidating (in a tech sense for a new user to Linux) in the GNU/Linux world.  You’ll read all manner of rants about software freedoms, proprietary software and its “evils”.  For most people who use their machine as they would any other device around the house, they leave the experience baffled.  New to Linux? Then get ready to be baffled by “experts” who will tell you about DE’s, proprietary, opensource, GRUB and many more terms.

Linux “experts” and the type who are most likely to baffle you with software “ethics” et al can be quite easy to spot.  Amongst the most obnoxious can be the ones who show screenshots of their Linux system running in the command line.  To them, the less aesthetically pleasing it looks, the more advanced they must be (or thats my theory anyway).

Let me hopefully make this simple for you: Select what is right for you, learn (if you wish) at your own time, then if you find yourself with opinions on certain software/configurations you can make changes then. – If you listen to many of the sites that will rant on about KDE or BASH and how to use script files to solve all of life’s issues, you will end up confused and nowhere fast, migrating back to Windows or that delicious fruit branded operating system.  This is, I think the problem desktop Linux has had over the years and I think deep down many of these “experts” with Linux and FOSS don’t actually want the mainstream using them as they can then feel special or important that their machine runs on software very few people use – or know how to use.

Whats GRUB? – Its the menu system you get when you switch your machine on that allows you to chose between say Linux and Window (if you have what is called dual boot).  What’s ICE? its basically your Chromium browser stripped down of all the fluff and menus and allows a web page to be run (for example Twitter) like a application. – See? two terms which at first seemed complex, explained in a few lines and shown to be rather simple.

Myths dispelled (for new users)

Here are some of the comments you will hear from people online in respect of Linux.  It’s unclear if these people are just sincerely ignorant or if they have a vested interest in keeping you away from software which is free and will complete the tasks you are currently doing on software you’ve had to pay for.

1. You have to compile your own Kernel. – Rubbish.  I won’t explain what the Kernel is at this time (its not required) but suffice to say, in 2008 I started reviewing Linux distro’s (having used Linux for a long time) and not once have I had the need (or desire to compile the Kernel).  If someone makes this remark, you can ignore it completely.

2. You have to compile your applications, its difficult to install software. – Again rubbish.  For many years most Linux distro’s have the equivilant of the app store that you see on your mobile phone.  Software is categorised with reviews and screenshots within the software center (or similar) and installing is merely a click away.  There’s no zip files, no compiling, no editing script files.  If you can install an application on your mobile phone, then you’ll have no difficulty on Peppermint.

3. Linux doesn’t work with your hardware – Rubbish again, of course there can be issues (just like when some people tried to install Windows Vista for example) so when it comes to installing any new operating system on the plethora of hardware options out there, it’s impossible to say before hand if there are going to be any issues.  I’ve installed Linux on over 100 machines and not had issues – is this an indicator of a “perfect” Linux anymore than a naysayers claiming Linux won’t work? No of course not.  This is why anyone considering Linux should follow the suggestion I make below, if you are wanting to swap your current operating system experience and find out for yourself.

4. You can’t play Windows games on Linux – This is half true.  Just as you wouldn’t expect to play Xbox One games on a PS4, you can, for the moment take it that if you buy the latest Windows game, it won’t work on Linux.  Whilst you are new to the Linux environment its best you stick with that, there are ways to get Windows games running on Linux (using a package called WINE) however, this is something that should be looked at later when you’ve become used to how Linux works.  For now, if you want to play the latest Windows games, stick with Windows, moving to Linux for the sole purpose of playing games made for Windows is not worth it.

5. You can’t run Microsoft Office – For now agree that you can’t, but why do you need to? Do you have a specific need for the Office suite of Microsoft or are you one of the millions of users who merely need a Word Processor et al and it just so happens you’ve always used Office? There’s plenty of options.  My first book which is awaiting publication was 80,000+ words and went nowhere near anything of Microsoft.  GoogleDocs? (as stated above Peppermint already has the integration there for you) Libreoffice? – A great Office Suite that will cost you the princely sum of £0.00.

How to explore Linux

When I’m introducing someone to Linux, I don’t believe the “all or nothing” approach works, so if you are new to Linux and would like to see the benefits it can offer you, download and burn onto disk the latest version of Peppermint and follow these steps.

1. Run it from the DVD/CD – Now that you’ve burned your copy of Peppermint, you can run it from the disk without having to install anything at all.  So put your disk in reboot the computer and look out for a message similar to “press f12 for boot options” select to boot from your DVD and in a short while (please note if you do install Peppermint it will load far faster) Peppermint will boot to the desktop, where you can access the net and have a play around with Linux.

I normally tell people to boot from a CD for about a week, get on with the tasks that they need to do and see fully if they enjoy the Linux experience.  If, after a week they are happy, I suggest the next step.

2. Install Linux alongside your existing operating system.  Peppermint (and many other distro’s) offer you the facility to install alongside what currently installed on your PC.  Doing this will mean that every time you reboot, you will be presented with a menu giving you the option of which operating system you wish to run.

After step 2 has been completed, I usually leave the user for a few weeks to see how they get on.  If they are still happy, then they can make the decision to either remove the old operating system or leave it in there. And finally:

3. Once they’ve had Linux running on their system for a few months and are happy with the experience, I tell them to let other people know.  Probably the biggest myth that needs to be dispelled about Linux is that it is the remit of “experts”.  Ironically since 2008 and this sites creation, the most complex issues I’ve had to fix on friends PC’s have been on Windows machines.  Could I merely be saying that in order to promote Linux? Well I could, but just like a recommendation of anything from anyone, the only way you find out is if you give it go yourself and come to your own conclusion.

You can check out this punchy, simple to use desktop on their homepage:


All change at Microsoft? – Or admitting defeat?

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Poor Microsoft, having to release its software on other platforms because only a few are buying theirs.....
Poor Microsoft, having to release its software on other platforms….

Three pieces of news from Microsoft today, which signal to me a change in the companies view of itself and maybe now realizes that as well as having no foothold on the popular markets of today such as smartphones, net services and search, see’s itself more providing software for others in its future.

First up is that on July the 1st there are to be big changes at Microsoft.  Now we could speculate, but I think the time has long since past where Microsoft will regain its former “glory” and now can only sit back and watch itself being ridiculed and its market share in a plethora of services, software and tech be eaten away by competition.

The changes are reportedly being overseen almost solely by Ballmer, with an end goal of changing Microsoft into a “devices and services company”

Source: Independent

And if Ballmer has a hand in these “changes” then I expect them to be out of touch and beneficial to the competition and choice.  And because its Ballmer, we’ll probably get a chuckle out of them too.  Microsoft will be a considerably smaller software only company in the not too distant future – mark my words.  I suppose Microsoft will always have the portfolio of patents in which to fleece money from others – that is until such time as the issue of software patents is handled correctly.

There’s the news that Xbox games are coming to both iPhone and “smartphones” it must really hurt Microsoft just to have to say the “Google” word – especially now that it will be relying on Google’s customer base to buy Microsoft wares.

Through a licensing deal, Klab will bring Microsoft’s Xbox and Windows-based computer games to the iPhone and smartphones using Google Inc’s Android operating system, according to the Nikkei


Bing is due to release “Bing for schools” which allegedly is an ad free and adult free search engine.  Wow…. and suggests that Microsoft really wants to try and save its future by at least indoctrinating the young with their search engine (after all the latest form factors which the younger generation are using certainly do not have the Microsoft name on them).

“We see the program as something we can build alongside teachers, parents, and visionaries to create the best possible search experience for our children….”

Source: Cnet

So really its just going to be a search engine where only approved sites (and I assume approved by humans not bots) will be listed.  Of course how Microsoft would police those approved sites in order to prevent any “accidents” as a result of a comment or link from them is anyone’s guess and the fact that a young person may find a “safe” site as a result of Bing but then link onto something unsuitable, sort of defeats the whole object of the exercise.  Talking of the whole object of the exercise, I think in Bing for Schools its more a case of trying to indoctrinate young people into at least one Microsoft product before they go into employment using Android and Apple products and saying the word “Google”.

Contact points:

Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on

Beware a softie bearing gifts…Microsoft giveaway?

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I make no secret of my opinion that Microsoft should never be allowed the dominance on any form factor that its enjoyed over the years on the desktop.  After many years of introducing users to Linux and indeed other alternatives, it always amazed me that such simple features of Linux that I take for granted were seen as a huge benefit by those used to a Microsoft operating system.  A solid stable experience, no need to battle malware and faster operations were but a few things that users coming from Windows mentioned when they had Linux introduced to them.

Today times are changing and despite what some might say, the traditional desktop is going.  Thats great news for choice since we have Android and even Apple products offering users the experiences they want, that’s not good news for Microsoft who have, to be fair, struggled in almost every facet of new tech.  Even the Xbox One has a derogatory name and it hasn’t been released yet.

Recently Microsoft announced that it was giving away free ebooks in multiple formats for users to download.  These ebooks – surprise, surprise for Microsoft products. Good news? Well not in my opinion.  Lets look back a few years at what Bill Gates had to say:

“They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.”

That was Bill Gates talking about piracy and taking Microsoft products for “free”.  Now as we see people moving away from Microsoft is so many area’s, one has to wonder if this give-away is all about getting people “addicted” again.

I don’t think Microsoft has a belief in free.  It’s actions if hidden under a banner of “free” are to lock you into an ecosystem of theirs “One Microsoft Way” or as Bill Gates said, “to get sort of addicted”

I think Microsoft knows that the new generation of customers, the ones in school or college are getting competitors products.  Microsoft in my view can see that if left unchecked very shortly Microsoft will be an afterthought – Just look at the tablet and smartphone market now, Microsoft barely registers on the scale and has to get a living from Android “licenses” and if these form-factors are the mainstream of the future as the current market stands, Microsoft has a very small and unremarkable future.

I wouldn’t recommend people accepting anything for free from Microsoft, as in my view there’s always a price to be paid.

Contact points:

Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on