News Flash: If Your ISV Doesn’t Support Your OS, Software Installation is Tricky

Ian Murdock, the founder (and second syllable) of the Linux operating system Debian, is sounding off about his displeasure with software installation on Linux.

For instance, he cites the install procedure for Sun’s Java Studio Creator.  On Windows, you double click the exe. On Linux, make the install script executable, run it to extract an RPM, and install that RPM–if, of course, your Linux distro supports RPM, which many, such as Ubuntu Linux, do not.

The trouble of course is that while supporting Windows means supporting one OS, supporting Linux means supporting a potentially unlimited number of OSes built atop the Linux kernel.

The answer?  Ask your ISV to support your Linux OS properly, preferably by making available a network repository with binaries packaged for your particular OS.  If enough other customers use the same OS as you, maybe it’ll work.

For a cleaner, broader, easier answer, I’m looking forward to reading Murdock’s followup post, which he’s said will be a summary of the goings-on at the Linux Standard Base group’s recent software packaging summit.

Support and Services Matter

Yesterday, a blog post I read from rPath CEO Billy Marshall piqued my interest.
Marshall dismissed the idea that open source software firms can be successful on the strength of their service and support offerings–a point of view that runs counter to conventional wisdom that when you’re selling something that’s free, you’d better surround it with some attractive complementary pieces.
Citing his previous experience leading sales at Red Hat, Marshall suggests an alternative to great support and service: selling your product really, really, really hard.
In support of his statements, rPath’s chief points to Red Hat and Oracle financials, and how where Oracle spends 25% of its revenue on sales, general and administrative costs, Red Hat spends a whopping 47%–that’s compared to 15% on R&D and 18% on service and support.
That’s enough for the numbers–Marshall doesn’t provide a citation for them, Red Hat and Oracle are very differently sized, and the support, R&D and SG&A figures he offers for each firm add up to 61% for Oracle and 80% for Red Hat, so there may be differences in the way the two companies sort their numbers.
Now, Red Hat saw and continues to see an opportunity undercutting higher-priced Unix hardware/software combinations with a Linux and commodity hardware duo. They’ve thrown a lot of resources toward winning big Unix migration deals, and they’ve done well for themselves.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Red Hat or other companies can’t succeed by selling support and services. As I see it, the world is grossly underserved with regards to IT, and major opportunities exist for firms that set out to gather freely available software components and shape them to serve the needs of individual companies.
Marshall writes that support is a bad model because customers want software that doesn’t need support. However, simply directing your sales execs to excise mention of support from their spiels doesn’t make support unnecessary.
Marshall also writes that “customers will pay a premium for great software, if they cannot get the same great software cheaper from somewhere else,” and then goes on to describe how at Red Hat, he boosted sales by convincing customers that they couldn’t get Red Hat Enterprise Linux anywhere else, and that support is irrelevant.
Of course this isn’t true, as you can acquire RHEL sans support without paying Red Hat anything by downloading CentOS Linux, and you can now acquire RHEL with support from Oracle for less than what Red Hat charges.
The difference for Red Hat is, and–if Red Hat is to remain on top–must continue to be… Support and Services. Hey, if you don’t need any help from your Linux vendor, why pay them a dime? If it doesn’t matter that your bug or feature request take precedence over open source’s upstream masses, again, why pay?

Give Novell a Break

I just read the Open Letter to the Community from Novell’s probably rather flummoxed CEO Ron Hovsepian, and if you’re someone who’s been wringing your hands over the collaboration and patents pact that Novell and Microsoft announced recently, you should read it too.

I sort of blew off the deal when I first read about it because I tend to assume that big historic deals that don’t include some sort of acquisition aren’t going to make much of a difference beyond the tech headlines of the day. However, a lot of people are taking the deal much more seriously, and around the Internet’s forum, blog, mailing list and IRC water coolers, open-source fans seem to be nominating Novell to be the new SCO.

It’s understandable that making a deal with Microsoft would stir up some heated chatter, but what’s really fanning the flames is the chatter coming from Microsoft. Microsoft is spinning the deal as a way for Novell customers to take shelter from some vaguely imminent Microsoft patent liability hammer. Steve Ballmer came right out and said that Linux violates Microsoft patents, but that Microsoft would really like to clear everything up by giving Red Hat and other vendors a chance to offer their customers the same cover Novell’s given their users.

Novell’s Open Letter, among other things, attempts to make clear that the whole patent protection bit was Microsoft’s idea, and that Novell holds that Linux and all the open-source projects that cluster about that kernel to form a complete operating system do not necessarily infringe on Microsoft patents.

Give Novell a break. Sure, they’ve–in my opinion, inadvertently–given Steve Ballmer grist for his FUD mill, but I believe that Novell thought they’d get good play from corporate IT customers for sitting down with Microsoft to sort out some of the annoying interoperability issues that exist between Linux and Microsoft.

Microsoft probably approached the table with a different agenda, which looks to have been to use Novell to raise questions about the viability of open-source software by playing the indemnification card. Microsoft needs to figure out how to compete with free, which is tough, because free is intrinsically better for users than non-free, and given a free and non-free piece of software that does a similar thing, the free software will win, eventually, at least.

Microsoft sees that it owns many patents, and that there’s an argument to be made that Linux OSes infringe on some of Microsoft’s patents. I bet this is true, by the way.  I bet that Linux OSes infringe on some of Microsoft’s patents, and that Microsoft could probably go after any arbitrary party they chose, including some individual user of Linux–RIAA-style, except on software patent grounds, rather than on copyright grounds.

However, Microsoft is not going to become a patent troll, and this shadowy threat of patent litigation against Linux will never become a reality because, among other things, Microsoft’s software itself surely violates patents.

Microsoft’s products and future products probably infringe on some Novell patents, and some Red Hat patents, and some IBM patents, and some Sun patents, and probably some unbelievable number of other patents, because the reality of patent regulation in the U.S. is that almost anything can be patented, and the U.S. patent bureaucracy seems to regard its primary goal as handing out as many patents as it can.

Novell, as its CEO points out in his open letter, has a patent policy in which the firm promises to use its own patent portfolio to go after those who’d attack the open-source projects that Novell distributes or otherwise supports. In its Linux distributions, Novell distributes the work of hundreds of different open-source projects, so, according to Novell’s stated policy, these projects aren’t alone in the patent cold war.

If Microsoft came after popular open-source projects, however they might do it, Novell, Red Hat and any number of other patent-holding groups would fall over themselves to join the fray, because such an attack on open source would be a direct attack on these firms, and counterattacks would be an opportunity to curry favor with the customers Microsoft would be threatening.

If Microsoft is really serious about interoperability, innovation and serving customer needs, they should dump the vague threats about patents and indemnification and lawsuit exposure for users of Linux and open source and get back to work on their own products. Better yet, rather than spend time figuring out how subtly to undercut free software, Microsoft should use those resources figuring out how to make money from free software themselves.

After all, free software is as free for Microsoft’s taking as it is for ours.

Installing Vista RTM on VMware

During our recent Vista tests, we came across a bug in the Vista installer that prevented us from installing the OS onto VMware using an iso image of Vista.  The OS booted normally for us from an iso image, but then complained about not having a driver for the virtual DVD/CD drive from which we’d just booted.

The error message that Vista coughs up is, “A required CD/DVD device driver is missing.  If you have a driver floppy disk, CD, DVD or USB flash drive, please insert it now.”

Here’s a workaround, which we pieced together from a handful of VMware web forum posts, and tested with the RTM Vista release and VMware Server 1.0.1.

Steps to get Vista installed on VMware Server using an ISO image:

1. Configure your Vista VM with two CD drives, the first pointed at a real CD drive, the second pointed at the Vista iso image.  Configure both drives to “connect at power on,” and make sure the “legacy emulation” box is not checked for your first CD drive.

2. Boot up your Vista VM with no disc in the physical drive. Your VM will boot from the Vista iso image.

3. Once your VM boots, click “Next,” and then “Install Vista.” When you hit an error about Vista not having a driver for your CD drive, alt-ctrl out of the VM and go to “VM,” “Removable Devices,” “CDROM 1,”  in the VMware Server console menu and edit CDROM 1 to point at your Vista iso image. You don’t need to change CDROM 2.

4. Click OK, and Vista should proceed normally.

I’ve only tested this so far with VMware Server, but I imagine the procedure will be the same for other VMware products.

UPDATE: Once I got Vista installed this way, the system still wasn’t recognizing my CD drives.  I switched my first drive back to point at a physical CD drive with legacy emulation switched off, rebooted Vista, waited for the OS to recognize and install a driver for the drive.  Once the system had installed a driver for that first CD drive, I was able to point it at the iso image on which the VMware tools are stored and install those tools, which I had to do in order for Vista to recognize my virtual NIC.

After rebooting, however, Vista still did not recognize my iso-backed CDs, so for now, I’ll have to play the physical-to-virtual switch game to connect iso images as CDs or DVDs to this Vista VM.  At least my NIC is working.  Here’s hoping that VMware (or, though probably less likely, Microsoft) manages to fix this annoyance soon.

Thoughts on VMware’s Virtualization on OS X Demo

Yesterday I dropped by the Four Seasons Hotel to check out VMware’s public demo of its in-development virtualization software for OS X.
I watched an Intel Mac Mini with 2GB of RAM run Windows XP within OS X, more or less the same way VMware Workstation or Player runs Windows within Windows or within Linux. Performance looked great, including smooth video and Webcam playback from within the virtualized XP instance.
What I didn’t see, and what eventual users of VMware for OS X may or may not ever end up seeing (at least while remaining in DMCA compliance), is a virtualized OS X running within OS X.
In order for this to happen, VMware will have to figure out, to Apple’s satisfaction, how to uphold one of Apple’s sternest commandments: OS X Shall Not Run on Non-Apple Hardware.
There’s no doubt that running virtual OS X instances, with all the handy-for-testing snapshot and sandbox capabilities that virtualization can offer, would be of significant benefit to the developers assembled here at the Apple’s WWDC.
What’s more, it’d be helpful for potential customers of Apple’s newly announced Intel XServe to be able to divvy up that machine’s new horsepower among virtual instances–without, at least, having to switch to an operating system with permission to run virtually.
Fortunately for such forced switchers, Windows Server, Linux or really any other x86 OS this side of whatever runs the original Xbox is quite happy to run on arbitrary hardware, virtual or not.
Beta code is due before the end of the year. I’m betting that Apple and VMware will work something out. What say you all?

What the Heck Does “Socialize IP Ownership” Mean?

I read a blog entry today by Shai Agassi, president of the product and technology group at SAP, in which he sought to set the record straight concerning his opinions toward open source. Last week, Agassi made some comments about open source software and development that some interpreted as negative.

So, let us duly note, Shai LOVES open source.

I thought briefly about blogging about those earlier comments, not in response to the bits about open source being non-innovative, but in response to Agassi’s comment about IP Socialism. I ended up not blogging about the comments-there’s really not much new or interesting about proprietary software vendors taking pot shots at open source, since this seems to happen pretty much every day.

However, this bit of clarification text from Agassi’s latest blog entry stirred me sufficiently to prompt a post of my own:

“The one thing we do not believe in is the attempt to kidnap the whole Open Source topic by the ‘socialize IP ownership’ movement.”

The quotes that Agassi puts around “socialize IP ownership” suggest that the term is not Agassi’s own, that there’s some specific movement for socializing IP ownership to which he’s referring. I searched for the term on Google, and the only references I found to this term were Shai Agassi’s blog entry.

I know it’s popular to point to the free and open source software trend as a new red menace, but can anyone explain to me what open source or free software actually has to do with Socialism or Communism?

Developers, or the firms that employ them, are free to license their works in any way they see fit. If these individuals or groups use the code of others in their works, they’re required to abide by the licenses under which the developers of those borrowed works released their code. Did the writing of that sentence just evoke a Karl Marx cackle from beyond the grave? Is Lenin now grinning underneath his waxy coating?

The rise of free and open source software might prove inconvenient for incumbant, proprietary software vendors, but that doesn’t make it some Communist threat. Far from it-what could be more free market than open source? Everyone who uses a particular project or codebase (which, by the way, they’re free to use or not use) starts from a common point, and those who execute best win.

What’s the defining characteristic of Socialism or Communism? The State decides how property is assigned, and intervenes in the lives of its citizens to enforce its will.

Now, what are Patents and Copyrights? The State grants individuals and corporations leave to pluck preexisting ideas and expressions or combinations of preexisting ideas expressions out of the air and assert monopoly control over the rights of others to use or speak those ideas and expressions. The State also stands prepared to pursue and punish-through fines or imprisonment-those who run afoul of these monopoly grants.

Personally, I prefer less government control over my thoughts and expressions, rather than more, I don’t believe that idea and expression monopolies should last forever (or forever minus one day) and I’m quite certain that these preferences don’t make me a Socialist.

When I read in our constitution the line that allows so-called Intellectual Property to exist at all, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” I take that limited times bit seriously.

Maybe what I am is a Strict Constructionist. GW, I’m willing to trade my analyst’s pen for a robe-drop me a line.