Succeeding with an Open Source License

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FACTS: Matt adopted B2 and forked WordPress, Mark adopted Linux and forked Ubuntu.

EPIPHANY: The mainstream success of any open source software is directly proportionate to the passion of the people who adopt it.

MORE THOUGHTS: Building a decent product on GPL and distinguishing it from the competition is not enough. You still need people with heart to endorse it; people who are passionate and believe in its utility. Corporate backing, funding, partnerships and marketing definitely aid spreading a platform far and wide but a face that stands for everything in the product is priceless, a face that wouldn’t fail the community for minting money. WordPress and Ubuntu are my favorite examples.

Open source is not just a fad anymore and it’s more than just a cost benefit. In fact, we are embracing open source software more and more based on the merits of the software than its cost benefits. So when I see an open source project fail I wonder if people working on them had enough conviction.

Staying Behind Closed Doors

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This post is in response to the one I read on Computer World. You might want to take a look at it, ’cause the idea to write this originated on reading this.

The only reason why Google is pushing for open source standards and formats alone is because its business model is completely different from that of Adobe, Apple or Microsoft. Google’s main source of revenue is CONTEXTUAL ADVERTISING. So, it makes sense for them to invest in open source technologies and spreading their adoption among content developers/ distributors. And if this happens which kind of seems likely, Google, with its bunch of amazing computer scientists and proprietary search algorithms, will be the most powerful company in the IT space. Proprietary and patent protected formats and publishing standards are the only that can rain on its parade. Though proprietary media streaming formats and web application frameworks like that of Quicktime from Apple, Flash from Adobe and Silverlight from Microsoft are not as easily adopted as the open source frameworks, their value is deeply rooted in their paid license (though lately, Google has managed to push these otherwise closed companies to create more open standards compliant frameworks) as they fend off other companies, from monetizing their content. Google happens to be one of those companies that thrives off your content, though not intentionally and with a fair disclosure, but it just happens to be. Google roots for open source because it enables easy access to your content for building more intelligent advertising solutions which means more money for the company.

We can love Google for all its openness, and free tools viz., Blogger, Groups, Sites and a score of others but we shouldn’t despise Microsoft, or Apple for their closed systems. The only reason why Google is lobbying for an Open Web because they are more aptly positioned to reap the direct benefits of an open web while these other companies are not. Now, holding Google on a pedestal and scoffing at Microsoft doesn’t seem all that right to me. Microsoft has created incredible value for many of us, for years. With its suite of products/services it enabled us to be in charge of our creations, albeit for a fee. These companies never wanted access to our data. They provided the tools, the OS, the productivity suite, and got out of the way. None of the online publishing tools that are available for free (the most popular ones being from Google, others being ZoHo, Evernote, and so many others), are as powerful as Microsoft’s or Adobe’s Desktop applications.

We probably don’t realize this now but Google’s gimmicks at open sourcing its technologies have a much greater potential of disrupting the worldwide IT business. Imagine a decade later when all content is created using open source formats and there is no one accountable for security, or performance of content. Yes, there will be support communities and companies providing managed services for your content but their liability would be limited to their service. They would never be accountable for a bug in an open source software. You won’t be able to reclaim your losses for failed protection OR file a lawsuit against.

Google probably realized it early that knowledge is power. And invested heavily and patiently (Google waited 5 years to let YouTube pick up before monetizing it with ads) in building services for free that would attract creation of content to which it can freely access. Clearly, the Contextual Advertising based revenue model requires Google to have access to as much content as possible. Though it sounds a little evil and conniving, Google has been open about it all the time. In a recent interview Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google Inc., very frankly admitted that information is power. I thought a little about it and realized that Google not only has most liberal access to the world’s information but also the tools and talent to create knowledge out of it. And it is this knowledge that will hurl Google decades ahead of every other IT company. Underlying its aggressive diversification into areas as unrelated as Energy and Cable Networks I see Google’s infinite hunger for information it can turn to power.

For the same reason, it kind of makes me feel that Google is the only company working in the Information Technology space while others just, well, seem like Technology companies. So, should we be feared now with Google in charge of our email, discussions, and ideas? I am sure that our content is more secure with Google than with us, just like our money is more secure in a Bank than with us and we shouldn’t be paranoid. In fact, I have a few domains hosted with Google Apps myself. However lately I have begun to realize the importance of  being in control over the virtue of ease of use and managed services which are so well-integrated within Google’s products. I also appreciate intelligent advertisements from Adsense but sometimes feel like there’s got to be a plug that I can pull when I want. Now I can see why some organizations, choose Omniture over Google Analytics, WordPress over Blogger, Cisco over Google Wave OR Microsoft Exchange over Google Apps. It’s now clear to me that not all businesses are the same. And many if not all of them choose against Google to preserve control over the information that they create.

For all its openness Google will never open up its proprietary search algorithms for content publishers, however, it will always have access to our content because we adopted the open standards Google endorsed . So, those who think Google is more open than Microsoft, think again. No company can open up the secret to their core competency, and Google’s core competency lies in its search algorithms just like Microsoft’s lies in its source code for Windows or Office. I hope I am not the only one to see this but imagine what would happen if the open formats endorsed by Google (such as VP8 for online video encoding and streaming, please note that it is still a contention, Google hasn’t officially announced opening the format) are universally adopted. Of course, Google itself will become the fiercest competitor for all online business owners because it would be better positioned to make money from our content than ourselves. Google being the gates through which information will flow on the internet, there would be no competition left, may be Face Book which is another company pushing for open web as it is privy not only to information we create but our entire life streams.

The opening up of formats and relying on open source technologies is good so far as when our business is as open, i.e., the revenues are either based on sponsorships or affiliate commissions. For businesses who make money from actually selling their services/ products to customers who demand them, going open is not a suitable option. They are better off with by paying for a scalable but closed system of software and formats.

Considering the amount of power that resides with companies like Google and FaceBook, I have come to appreciate the importance of staying behind closed doors and acknowledge the value provided by closed systems. Maybe the web should not be so open after all.

Do we really care?

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People please realize … you cannot save tigers by supporting the cause on Facebook… I am not against these “voice your opinion” and “support the cause” promotions but the world just doesn’t work this way. Someone’s got to go out in the woods and track down the hunters or plant more trees. For every forwarded email, or sharing links on FB post, only if we were planting a seed we would see a greener earth, a healthier and cooler environment and safeguarding the interests of the wild animals. An idea is nothing if implemented – To show we really care, we must act. If you want to save the tigers, plan an espionage into the woods on your own money to catch the poachers. Or clear the Indian Forest Services Exam and volunteer for an assignment into the jungles.

Navneet Sikera, an engineer from IIT Roorkee cleared the IAS Examination but opted for a position in the Indian Police Services. Why? Simple… he didn’t like that the criminals always had their way while the innocent citizens feared the police. Because no one else was doing anything about it, he took the onus on himself to clear the street of the crime. And he has done a fine job… just google him and see for yourself how much he has accomplished.

We are educated, knowledgeable, have access to technology and above all we care. To prove our commitment we have to give up our habit of preaching and do those things that ought to have been done a long time ago. We had 65000 tigers when we got our independence, a figure that has gone down to 1400, and I don’t see anything substantial coming out of a Cause invitation on the Facebook, unless someone rolls up his sleeves and enters the jungle.

So this is my contention – if you see a problem and you really want to do something about it don’t feel content that you did your bit by forwarding an email or joining a cause invitation.Take a leap, do something about it.

P.S – Please don’t send me any cause invitations.. To put it politely I am repulsed every time I look at them.

How’s it going Harsh? Have you abandoned your blog?

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Nooo!

Yeah sorta  … but that’s not entirely true. I mean I change the blog theme every couple of weeks.

I know, I know … it’s not enough and I ought to write and stuff when I proclaim so unabashedly my commitment to the blog. Still though it is tough, it is tough to write consistently. I took up a lot of stuff to do in the last six months simultaneously. And that is only because I can’t be held back by one project. I get bored if I work in a loop and that too, very quickly. Consequently, my productivity goes down and the project suffers perennially. On the other hand, it is amazing that I still feel enthralled to find new things to learn. I think LEARNING might be the one thing that I would be consistently good at, all through my life. Studying different subjects and discovering their real world application just fills me up. I feel so proud after solving a problem I go to the extent of rewarding myself by feasting on my mum’s pudding (kheer).

The option to switch between different projects keeps me pepped up. This blog is one of those many ventures, but it is more – it is personal. Though my blog has suffered neglect from me, it has remained – like a friend I know I can call in the oddest of hour. And, this is a particularly odd hour.

Having spent hours on learning stuff and not being able to apply it to solve the problem leaves me extremely critical of myself and my methods. This is one of those hours. And I write this post deeply reflective of what I want to be OR should I say what I want to do. Yes, I think that is the right question to ask… what do I want to do with my life?

I could be nobody and still live through the years without regrets, but I could never live without doing something. To me, life is no more than a flicker of a match-stroke. Though a lighted match can light up a room, the flame gradually abates and dies out eventually leaving the room dark as before. Our lives are nothing but the evanescence of a lighted match and we fantastically overlook this ephemerality of our existence because we are too busy trying to be somebody.

A match has no utility, no meaning if it burns to the end. However, if it were to light a torch its existence would be infinitely useful to a world engulfed in darkness as other torches are lit from the original. I want my life to be the match that lighted a torch, started a movement, solved a problem, created a solution. That would give meaning to my life. And so I go on learning one thing from another in the hope that I will be able to fix something some day and that the flame of invention & innovation is kept alive.

9043 Unread Items and Random Thoughts

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I got a whooping 9043 unread items in my RSS Feed Aggregator. Makes me wonder if I really read as voraciously as I claim to.

Update from previous post: Insane surfing is under check but I gotta confess ol’ habits die hard. I still spend most of my day ranting in the blogosphere and reading my favorite blogs.

Okay, I just re-read that … sounds like it’s still a long way from being under check. Alright I give up. I am such a nerd and a helpless one at that too. I am giving myself in for a treatment but before that I got to free the FeedDemon, my RSS reader. … Later blog!

My Last Insane Surfing Session

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Past few days have been wretched to me. I can’t seem to get my head around to doing things that I want to do the most. I always end up too tired or surf the internet like crazy till my eyes pop out of their sockets and scream they can’t take it anymore. Let me say this that I don’t use too much of Facebook, Twitter or Orkut but read insightful blogs, bookmark (on Diigo) and try to learn something in my fields of interest/ study. As fruitful as it sounds, after a session of internet surfing I don’t feel all that enlightened. To the contrary I hate the feeling. Reason: After every surfing session I find myself at the same point I started from. Let me tell you what happened a few days back.

I was browsing the internet to find pointers/ guides to gain a deeper understanding of Economics and related commercial disciplines when I stumbled upon an excellent resource at the Wikiversity and started reading. However, out of curiosity to explore the other disciplines I clicked on the links in the sidebar and got lost for the next three hours. I can recall reading some chapters on Automobile enginneering, a chapter on Web designing before I started searching for PHP based forum applications. I don’t even want to draw the map now ’cause I remember none of what I read and it was only a few days back. When I was done, I realized that I did not finish my reading on the chapters in Economics that I so wanted to study. And then I felt a stinging spasm in my chest, I went “Aaaaaargggh” and”Umphhhh” in my mind racking all the nerves (it was past 2:00 in the morning, couldn’t utter a sound) and wanting to tear my hair. I felt horrible and it’s not the first time the feeling occurred to me. It occurred multiple times in a week and no matter how much I try controlling myself from wandering away I find myself astray before long.

My facebook friends would recall my status update for that day, that went like “Suffering from I.S.S”. I called it “Insane Surfing Syndrome” but I strongly feel it’s got more to do with A.D.D (attention deficit order). This blog post started in the midst of one of those Insane Surfing sessions. As I write this post it occurs to me that:

  1. Reading an actual book over a blog post, a wikipedia page or a YouTube video is much more rewarding for my time spent in learning.
  2. Internet serves best as a tool for research but poor for structured learning.

I do this all the time – I start on something and then I get lost. It’s like building a lead and not closing the sale. I end up sulky, dissatisfied and sometimes quit. I so want to finish things that I start. I know I am creative and a stickler for doing things perfectly but tonight I feel like I want to cross the finish line. The famous quote, “success is not the destination, it’s a journey” does not ring true anymore. What good is a journey if you do not reach anywhere? I’d rather complete my journey than travel forever. My only wish is to be able to do that in time.

This is the last night of Insane Surfing. When I wake up tomorrow, I have got a few laps to run and I swear to God I will complete each one of ’em.

I wish Microsoft could innovate more!

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Wow, this new text-editor (Q10) seems nifty and I am thrilled to have found it. Finally, I found something to write on without getting distracted. I just wish this kind of a functionality could be built in MS-Word. This is so handy. I wish people at Microsoft could be more involved with the environment. Microsoft is trying hard to listen to the users but that is the problem, when you are the biggest of all, you often prefer everything organized including customer feedback. However feedback from users is not the only thing they should care about. They should also care about what else their customers are using. Here is a piece of software (Q10) that people are downloading everyday, when they already have its big brother, MS-Word. Doesn’t Microsoft ever bother to find out what other similar softwares people are looking for when they are the leading provider in that software niche. Clearly, people are not looking for a new software as much as they are looking for a feature. When they don’t find that feature, they go on to try new softwares and then they realize that they don’t use that expensive software from Microsoft so much and it’s an ol’ piece of junk lying about in the garage. Frankly, people would be happy to live in the Stone Age if they would only be able to focus on what they wanted to do.

Now, how many times does a writer bother editing font, colour or using the extra formatting features bundled with a word editor? I recall reading on some MVP’s blog that Microsoft spent a lot of dollars in figuring out the needs of law firms and then built the ‘Styles’ feature in Word. This feature is so useful, that I can’t even think of using any other Word editor provided I am an organization in need of standardizing documents. Now, the Ribbon interface is cool, very intuitive but this piece of innovation does not make as great an impact as the ‘Styles’. How many times have you wanted to just throw open the editor and compose a blog post or an essay without thinking about its appearance (formatting). I know there is ‘Live Writer’ but think about it – when you paid for the most powerful Word editor in the whole world, would you really want to download and use a scaled down clone. Why can’t Microsoft just build the functionality of Live Writer in MS-Word and offer it as a free plug-in. This might even help Microsoft marginally increase the sales of MS-Word.

From the unprecedented success of App store, I have learned and now come to believe that people who use technology are not looking for a standalone, do-it-all, multi-functional software but something very objective, you know, something that just works and get things done. They might be kicked into excitement with all the cool features Microsoft built into Word 2010 but when they find out that they can barely use all of its features they won’t be so pleased.

I strongly feel that as users of technology our primary focus is always on getting things done (GTD) rather than being stoked over all the cool features of an application. Can’t Microsoft sense this? The dynamics of this industry have changed. I mean it’s everywhere – take twitter. There could not be a simpler communication tool. And the reason it became so big – it just works. If I have something to say (tweet) to anyone who cares to listen (followers), I have got to use twitter. And now there is probably a hundred companies built around twitter. When did Microsoft last make such a radical product? I have a lot of respect for the company that Mr. Gates has built over last two decades, but as the giant grew, it separated itself from the common masses. And the only approach that I think, can make Microsoft a favorite among us again is listening to what people WANT to use and then building it the way they CAN use it.

That’s all I got to say. What do you think?

P.S – this post was composed in Q10, a text-editor for writers. I did not run spell-checks and use other features to format this post to just see how productive I am when I am focused on writing rather than formatting.