AWS Outage: We Need to Talk About These Nines

AWS-Burn

I walked out of a meeting, preparing to go to lunch. One of the guys on the database team grabs me as I pass and informs me that his AWS (Amazon Web Services) permissions are broken. He’s unable to see any of his S3 buckets. I walk to my workstation, sit down, log into the console and find that none of our S3 buckets seem to exist. First thing’s first- let my boss, the director of technology, know, then run to the development directors to inform them. Grabbing my laptop, it’s back to the conference room with my director and a fellow sysadmin. Amazon’s status site asserted that everything was actually okay. Operations is doing what they do best – scrambling. Email notifications are going out to the technology department, the sales department, and the customer management and support teams. Two of the team members from Operations and Help Desk were at an AWS conference. They chime in on the email threads, digitally chortling about how the presenters had finished explaining that the eleven-nines of availability meant the S3 service would only go down once every 10 million years just before their presentation ground to a halt, because S3 was… unavailable.

This was a small outage for us. But an outage is an outage and they happen. Ultimately, they’re unavoidable because nothing is flawless. Mistakes will always happen eventually and Murphy has a law out there that’s still on the books. Within a few hours, the services were back up and our products recovered. It was a shock when it happened, but once we got our bearings, there was nothing we could do but accept it and wait. Notifications were out, and so it was time to monitor and send new ones when things were back up. This is both the benefit and burden of relying on someone else’s infrastructure. The aftermath seen in the headlines the next day is where it gets interesting. The tech world was awash in scolding sentiments about redundancy and proper architecture. There was a considerable amount of finger waving and condescension exclaiming that all those companies that suffered outages should have used multiple providers or at the very least multiple regions. But in all fairness, that’s not what these cloud service companies sell us.

Everyone in the industry knows that buzzwords are just that, words. Those of us in the trenches hear them day in and day out. They’re sometimes what gets a company to buy into a brilliant new project, and other times the thing that gets a company to push a futile, terrible and frustrating new project. The latest thing, for now, is to brag about the 9’s of uptime. Five-nines has become a misused claim that’s so pervasive very few people consider what it actually means anymore. Truly offering that level of uptime would mean that something is only unavailable a total of 5.26 minutes every year. So at eleven-nines, a five hour outage on S3 would be valid if the service didn’t have another outage for about 57.04 million years. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t realize this is hyperbolic and that the vendors are really just trying to express an extremely high level of confidence (read hubris) in their product.

Technologists who work in an enterprise environment understand how important high availability is and the consequences of not configuring the proper level of redundancy. Those of us who have made the shift to a public cloud infrastructure are cautious about how readily we believe the claims these providers make. Every one of us has been burned at some point or another but we try to recognize why it happens and make sure we find a way to correct it or work around it. While we may balk at their exaggerations, at some point you have to trust your vendor. Companies aren’t in the habit of purchasing an EMC then going out and buying a 3Par as a back up when getting new SAN storage so why should the same mindset not apply to infrastructure as a service?

While I understand that companies like Netflix invest large sums of money into building suites of applications specifically made to cause outages so they can work to ensure their reliability, I also understand that not every company can afford the time, effort or assets to do this. The prospect of services such as AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and Digital Ocean are that companies can have access to the necessities of technological infrastructure in order to create, grow and innovate without the unattainable initial capital required to do so just ten years ago. With these services comes a certain expectation from their customer base that is in no way unwarranted. Amazon themselves got burned by this outage, as their status page was incorrect because it relied on the very services that went down. Most of the people who work with these things already knew they were relying on something that could fail and were taking a calculated risk in doing so, and those who didn’t know now. Unfortunately, mitigating those risks often takes a considerable effort by several times, and the driving forces behind it don’t always have the ability to allocate the necessary resources outside of their central team. Moments like this can sometimes be leveraged as proof of value for spending those resources, and those of us who lead these public infrastructure migrations try to do just that.

However, I question the validity of the allegations that customers should “know better.” These services are boasted as being unrealistically reliable, and while reason dictates that they can’t actually live up to their declarations, it shouldn’t be as far of a departure as it is. If a company is stating they have x-nines of reliability, they are asking to be relied upon. And when it’s a company like Amazon, an established technological powerhouse which not only embraces its position as the leader in public cloud offerings but redefined the market, those assertions should come with a level of accountability and expectation. We have to trust our vendors, so maybe it’s time they assess their claims and make them a bit more realistic.

The Novelty of KDE Neon

KDE Neon

The good folks at KDE managed to engage a market of Linux desktop users underserved by other distribution models. Or, maybe it’s just me.

KDE has a long history in the desktop ecosystem. It was the first Linux desktop I was exposed to back in 2006. Back then, it was on OpenSUSE and it was clean and functional. For some reason after that, installing KDE had never really appealed to me. I’ve tested it out briefly when poking around at what the OpenSUSE guys were doing and I’ve run Kubuntu for brief snippets. For years, I’ve been trying to find out what type of desktop user I am and which distro fits my needs.

I’ll admit that I’m a moving target. What I like changes depending on workflow expectations and machine capabilities. I’ve started to notice that I expect a desktop to have modern features while still maintaining a familiarity that doesn’t cost me days to adjust to the new environment. In this space, there are a lot of really neat contenders. Gnome has got a great desktop, but it renders slow on X. Budgie on Solus is a cool project with a lot of momentum, but isn’t ready for what I’d like to do (yet). Ubuntu MATE got me back to running Linux full time and it’s so familiar it’s hard to not use it. In addition, the software boutique and MATE tweak features gave me some really great access to modern features and software. Why the software boutique isn’t installed by default on every distro is just beyond my comprehension. That thing is just amazing!

MATE failed me when I got a new Hi-DPI machine with a backlit keyboard. In some cases, there were solutions I could apply to the issues arising from this new machine, but over time it became too cumbersome to keep searching to find them. I had to get work done. I knew the team was working to fix them, but the gap between the team fixing the issues and me needing to be functional was too long for my patience. The sour onion in my sandwich was when I had trouble grabbing the edge of a window to resize it and realizing how many attempts it took to perform this simple task. Sure, I scaled up my fonts, but that didn’t scale up the window edges.

I poked around at other distros and eventually landed on KDE Neon.

I know that to gongoozle is a verb that means to stare idly at a canal or watercourse. It’s an oddly specific verb and it’s even more odd that I know what it means. That being said, I’ve never bothered to learn how the community labels some things as distributions and some things as not distributions.

Here’s what I can gather:

  • Neon is not a distribution. It’s a desktop that sits on top of Ubuntu LTS (currently 16.04).
  • It’s not Kubuntu. Kubuntu is a Ubuntu flavor.
  • The word flavor reminds me of ice cream. So I guess when you’re trying a flavor you’re licking it?

So I guess the way to look at this is that Neon is an open-faced sandwich where the bread was made by the Ubuntu bakery. It’s good bread.

What I get on Neon is a desktop that’s updating and becoming more refined while still maintaining the underpinnings of what makes Ubuntu so marketable. This is exactly what’s missing from the Ubuntu ecosystem. In that ecosystem, you can run dated a dated desktop for several years and watch its wrinkles become more frustrating over time. Or you can run the nightlies as your OS and watch things break and get fixed. You’ll have the latest desktop the good folks have selected, but it may not work the way you’d expect. I did this for several months and it was unpolished but quite enjoyable.

So then there’s Neon. The desktop updates as needed and with the underpinnings of 16.04 still get you SNAPs, ZFS, and a great repository of software. Since I’m human, I interface with the machine through the desktop (and the occasional command line). I don’t directly interface with the code underneath. I want clean lines and elegant functional design. I want to be able to resize my windows on the first try. In Neon, scaling for Hi-DPI is easy, font management is excellent, alt+space launcher is awesome, super key search is flawless (even works when I misspell things), and not only are there elegant lines there’s an amazing amount of design thought into the way everything works and works together. I get that, and all the familiarity of the Ubuntu stack underneath.

You might pick on me for touting font management, but it’s a serious indicator of a polished desktop. If the font management is good, it’s likely because the design team had people on it who understand fonts. So you’re only likely to see this on a more polished desktops. Font management is also never the priority. So if the developers got around to getting it done, then it means they’ve worked through quite a large stack of issues to get fonts going. So yeah, for me you can tell the quality of the desktop by the way it manages fonts.

It might just be me, but I believe these KDE guys are on to something. They’ve been able to federate the effort of one of the most popular Linux distros (Ubuntu) and marry that to their effort on the desktop. They’ve created a wonderful balance for a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties. Canonical should be advertising this solution while their users are waiting for Unity 8.

Groke is another old fashioned word with Scottish origins. It’s a verb that means to gaze at someone while they’re eating in the hopes that they will share their food with you. Folks who have been working with Ubuntu’s deployment scheduled releases have certainly benefited from their professionalism over the years, but I’ve heard of many who’ve been groking at those with rolling release desktops. Now finally it seems they can have both. KDE Neon is where the rolling release desktop meets a stable foundation and it’s where a great team hit the moving target of what I want in a distro. Thank you! Now I have more time to gongoozle.

Linux Mint 18.1 Is The Best Mint Yet

Mint-super

The hardcore Linux geeks won’t read this article. They’ll skip right past it… They don’t like Linux Mint much. There’s a good reason for them not to; it’s not designed for them. Linux Mint is for folks who want a stable, elegant desktop operating system that they don’t want to have to constantly tinker with. Anyone who is into Linux will find Mint rather boring because it can get as close to the bleeding edge of computer technology. That said, most of those same hardcore geeks will privately tell you that they’ve put Linux Mint on their Mom’s computer and she just loves it. Linux Mint is great for Mom. It’s stable, offers everything she needs and its familiar UI is easy for Windows refugees to figure out. If you think of Arch Linux as a finicky, high-performance sports car then Linux Mint is a reliable station wagon. The kind of car your Mom would drive. Well, I have always liked station wagons myself and if you’ve read this far then I guess you do, too. A ride in a nice station wagon, loaded with creature comforts, cold blowing AC, and a good sound system can be very relaxing, indeed.

MINT JUST GOT BETTER… AGAIN

I had no intention of writing this article at all until I upgraded one of my machines from Linux Mint 17.3 to 18.1 the other day. Frankly, I didn’t think there’d be all that much to talk about but I have been more than just a bit surprised at just how smooth and elegant Linux Mint 18.1 “Serena” is. To put it simply, this is the best Mint ever. Linux Mint 18 was released with much fanfare last year and I have tried it on various systems. I found it to be just a bit shaky… A lot of that shakiness can be attributed to the fact that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS landed with numerous bugs and issues and, since Linux Mint 18 is based on Ubuntu 16.04, some of that filtered down from upstream. Ubuntu has addressed most of those bugaboos over the last year and the first “dot release” in the LM 18 series seems to have successfully smoothed over whatever rough edges might be left in Ubuntu. Everything just works. Not a trace of the notorious Ubuntu Network Manger bug can be found in the new Mint. Wi-Fi is rock solid and dependable.

LINUX MINT IS MY DAILY DRIVER

I look at a lot of Linux distros for YouTube videos and to keep up with what’s going on. Some people think I am a notorious distro hopper who can’t make up his mind because of those videos. The truth of the matter is that I have been using Linux Mint almost constantly since the 17 series came along in 2014. I switched to Ubuntu MATE on a couple of my machines for a while and I consider Ubuntu MATE to be my second favorite distro. Mint is not perfect – no Linux distro is –- but it’s proven itself to be super stable. I run the Cinnamon Desktop everywhere and I have become very accustomed to how it works. It offers a nice balance between the oversimplification that GNOME 3 has become and the complexity of KDE Plasma. Mint has some very nice, simple tools included that I end up using more often than I thought I would. There is a USB stick formatter that will format any external drive with just a couple of clicks. There is also a handy USB Image writer tool that will create a bootable USB drive from any ISO Image. It’s just the dd command with a GUI front end, folks. Insidiously simple but very powerful and convenient.

X-APPS RULE

Linux Mint forked a number of applications with the introduction of the 18 series and these are called X-apps. The name comes from Linux Mint’s standard Mint-X theme. So far, the X-apps offer an image viewer called Xviewer, a basic media player called Xplayer, a text editor called Xed and a photo manager/editor called Pix. The introduction of X-apps raised more than a few eyebrows in the Linux world. Some folks didn’t see the need for the duplication of effort but I have come to realize that the Mint folks had some very good reasons. Let’s take Pix as an example. Pix is a fork of the GNOME project’s gThumb application. I like gThumb a lot and I’ve used it for years but GNOME has made some pretty radical changes to gThumb’s UI in the latest versions. The program is still great but the new interface is awkward for many and oversimplified. Pix has taken the nice technical advances of the later gThumb version but kept the more traditional interface. The same can be said for the other X-apps. They are all very familiar and easy to use for anyone who knows their way around a computer. All the buttons and menus are where you expect them to be. I moved directly from 17.3 to 18.1 and didn’t miss a beat. Just today, I used Pix to create some thumbnails for a web project and I breezed through 20 photos in no time. On the other hand, I was using the latest gThumb in Ubuntu GNOME 16.10 a couple of weeks ago and I kept having to click things just to figure out what they did…. It was flat out annoying!

LET THE MINT MUSIC PLAY

Linux Mint has shipped with Banshee as its main media manager for years but the Mint team decided to dump Banshee in favor of Rhythmbox. I have been gravitating towards Rhythmbox lately myself so I’m happy about the change. Rhythmbox is more focused on music than Banshee and doesn’t play videos… It also offers a nice podcast manager and it will rip your CD’s with ease. Banshee did all this and it also featured a video player but Banshee isn’t as configurable. For instance, Banshee didn’t offer quality and file format setting for audio files whereas Rhythmbox makes it easy to set that stuff up just the way you like.

I find the way Rhythmbox does playlists to be easier to work with too. Banshee won’t let you drag files from music folders into new playlists. You can only choose songs from the imported library. If you have a large music collection like I do, you probably have your music folder laid out in such a way that music is grouped by genre and era. Rhythmbox does let you drag files from folders right into the new playlist whether they are currently in the main library or not. I created some playlists that had everything in my collection from my favorite artists. All I had to do was use the search function in the Nemo file manager to list all the songs I had from each artist and then drag them into a fresh new playlist for each one. Cool, huh? Now if I just gotta hear a bunch of Billy Joel, I can click on the Billy Joel playlist and it’s all there. I can also just have the computer serenade me with a divine shuffle of whatever it chooses next.

Long-time Banshee users might not be too keen on setting everything up again in Rhythmbox but if they upgraded to 18.1 in place then all that is need is to install Banshee and everything will be just as it was.

Those who don’t like Rhythmbox or Banshee can install whatever they like, of course. Linux is all about choice.

ALL LINUX MINT, ALL THE TIME

I was looking back on the last year and I realized that just about every new client who came to me through ezeelinux.com had asked for help with Linux Mint. Also, many of the clients I had put on Ubuntu in the past came back to me during 2016 and asked me to help them move to Mint. Considering that and the fact that Linux Mint 18.1 was proving itself to be just plain awesome, I made the decision to change my focus from offering support any Debian/Ubuntu based distro to Linux Mint exclusively. Now, this does not mean I won’t help someone with Ubuntu if they ask for it specifically but they are gonna have to come up with a really good reason why they want Ubuntu for me to not try to talk them into using Mint. Mint just offers a more polished and cohesive user experience and it is very well documented. New users who start with Mint tend to have fewer questions for me than those who are on anything else. This is good for me because I am busier than a one-armed paper hanger and it’s also good for them because it builds confidence as they learn more about Linux. I’m sure that some will want to move on to more advanced-user-focused forms of Linux and that’s fine with me. If they should decide that Arch or Fedora is where they want to be then I can assume that they are ready to deal with the challenges they will face with those more cutting-edge distributions. My job will be done then and a new Linux Geek will be born!

SNAPPY MINT

Linux Mint does have its quirks… One of them is when it comes to installing applications. You get full access to the Ubuntu repositories and the Ubuntu PPA system. This is a good thing but that also can cause some issues when you try to install some apps that are not quite compatible with Mint or cause conflicts with Mint’s native apps. It’s rare but it can happen. Also, Mint does something that bugs me. They ship with the APT package management system set to ignore recommended packages when installing software. Linux developers often use existing programs to add features or functionality to their own application. While these programs aren’t absolutely necessary for the main app to run properly, not having them installed can make for unexpected behavior and limited usability. Ubuntu ships with APT set to consider the recommended packages as dependencies, thus avoiding these vexing issues. I always advise clients to change this setting in Synaptic Package Manager before they start adding software to a fresh install of Linux Mint.

One very cool new feature of Linux Mint 18.1 is that it introduces Ubuntu’s Snappy package system. Programs distributed through Snappy are called Snaps and can be installed with just a few simple commands. Snap packages are different from APT’s .deb packages in that they include everything in the snap that it needs to run. Snaps run in containers that are isolated from the main system, which makes them more secure. Removing a snap won’t leave any extra packages behind or remove something that another program might need to keep working. Snappy is growing fast and many major distros are offering snap support. I’m hopeful that it will help eliminate some of the software pitfalls that Linux Mint users have had to deal with.

MINT MOVING FORWARD

Linux Mint has definitely become the distro that geeks give their Moms and it’s the Noob’s best choice for their introduction to the world of Linux. It’s also great for lazy folks like me who have a house full of computers that they just want to keep up and running with a minimum of fuss.

I personally applaud the Mint team’s efforts to keep things consistent and familiar. I do not agree with those who think that a desktop computer’s UI should look and act like a tablet or smartphone’s. Those are different devices with very different use cases. Also, the trend where menus are being replaced by buttons and settings and features once considered necessary are hidden or removed is disturbing to me. Developers get so excited about making it all look slick and clean that they miss things that users need. As an example, I found that the printer configuration application in GNOME 3 dropped all mention of sharing a printer on the network. Those who want to setup CUPS either have to log into the CUPS server through a browser or they can open a terminal and pull up the old family’s CUPS printer manager app and set it there. I’m happy to report that Linux Mint still uses the little CUPS app and it has all the sharing features, just like it always has.

For more about Linux Mint: www.linuxmint.com.

Are You Ready For Linux?

readyforLinux

Linux on the Desktop is well past the stage of being a plaything for computer hobbyists but it still isn’t at the stage where it could be considered completely mainstream. There’s still some way to go but Linux is fast gaining ground at an accelerating pace and lots of folks are looking at it as a serious alternative to Windows and Mac. People tend to bring some misconceptions about hardware and software to the table when they seek advice and support as they contemplate making the switch. In this article, I will address a few of the most common complaints I get from folks who come to me for help getting started with Linux. I try to be up-front and honest about what Linux can and can’t do for them but I also am quick to point out that the surest way to have a bad experience with Linux is to approach it too quickly.

I hear this all the time: “Linux doesn’t support my ‘USB Left Nostril Repeater!’” or “I’d use Linux but I can’t run something silly like ‘PhotoSquash 2000‘ on it ’cause Linux doesn’t support it.” While the software/hardware names above may be made up, the point stands – Linux can and will do anything you ask it to. Linux doesn’t discriminate. It is up to the hardware designers and software developers to provide support for the Linux platform. So, if your favorite program isn’t available for Linux yet, don’t blame Linux. Better yet, make your voice heard and tell the developers of said program that you want it for Linux. While you wait for “PhotoSquash”, you can check out programs that do run on Linux that accomplish the same tasks. You may just find that you like the alternatives much more. Buying hardware that has good Linux support tells the manufacturer that there is a demand for Linux and it guarantees you a smoother experience using it. A win/win for sure…. Look in the forums and find out what all the hip kids are using before you buy.

Some people say, “I’d use Linux but it doesn’t work with my printer.” Most of the time, the printer they are referring to is five or ten years old. That line of thinking is sort of like saying you won’t buy a new car because the tires from your 1988 Buick won’t fit on the new car. Buy a new printer that works with Linux if you want to use Linux. I always point folks to HP because most of their stuff works right out of the box and on many distros it will auto-configure without any need for the user to do a thing. It’s worth the money for a new printer just to avoid the hassles of trying to find and install drivers for some marginally-supported, old, broken-down printer that might quit working tomorrow.

The folks who develop the Linux kernel have taken it upon themselves to include drivers for a wide variety of hardware. Most stuff either works or it doesn’t. There’s really no in-between. It is sometimes possible to find a hack that will make something work that wasn’t specifically designed to run with Linux but only rarely. It’s up to you to know whether something you buy has Linux support, either already in the kernel or provided by the manufacturer. Going down to the big box store and grabbing the cheapest peripherals off the shelf and hoping they will work with Linux will bring you heartache and pain. It’s way better to do some research before you buy something.

A story I’m hearing more and more is where folks go out and buy some cheap laptop at the big box store and then get miffed ’cause they can’t install Linux on it. Well, Duh! Those machines weren’t made to run Linux! Up to about five years ago, Linux would install on such low-end Windows machines rather easily but nowadays we got UEFI and Secure Boot to deal with and no two hardware manufacturers handle those things the same. You’re just being penny-wise and pound foolish trying this these days.

The best road to take in 2017 is to seek out and buy a machine designed to run Linux. Buying a new machine that comes loaded with Linux does some really nifty things. First, you send a message to the manufacturer that you care about Linux and that you appreciate their efforts to provide hardware for Linux. You’re voting with your wallet and you are NOT supporting Microsoft. Part of the price you pay for a computer that comes with Windows is the licensing fee that goes to MS. You’re just wasting hardened money if you don’t plan on using Windows! Also, it adds another tick to the all-important market statistics for machines sold with Windows. It doesn’t matter if you never boot into Windows or not. You bought a machine loaded with Windows and that counts as another Windows machine in the wild.

The two American companies that are offering the widest selection of Linux-loaded machines are System76 and Dell. System76 sells high-end hardware that is specifically built to run Ubuntu. Dell has recently expanded its line of Ubuntu loaded hardware. So, what if you don’t want to run Ubuntu? Both companies make it clear that their machines will run just about ANY modern Linux distro. Feel free to reload your shiny new machine with anything you like and the technical support folks will be glad to tell you how. System76 machines will happily run Windows too. I know of one tech who has decided that all of the new machines he recommends to clients will come from System 76, even if the client doesn’t want Linux! Why? It’s because they are very well made machines and he knows that even non-Linux-loving clients will be happy with their purchase for years to come.

I was going through a box of computer junk the other day, searching for a hard drive, and I came up with my old Ubuntu 10.10 installer CD. Just for fun, I ripped the CD into an ISO file and booted it up in VirtualBox. It all seemed rather quaint all these years down the road. It sort of boggles the mind when you consider just how far Ubuntu and Linux, in general, has come since 2010. Compared to Linux, Mac and Windows seem rather complacent. Linux is ever evolving and changing and the next couple of years promise to bring even more change than we’ve seen since 2010. The days of sticking Linux on a Windows PC are fast coming to a close. The future will require users to think in terms of hardware for Linux and not Linux for hardware. The software is going to change too. The days of companies being able to snub Linux are fast coming to an end as well. Cloud-based applications and the push toward cross-platform development will make what OS you are running more and more of an afterthought. Those who cling to the old way of doing things will eventually be pushed aside as Linux software gets better and better. Maybe not this year or the next but it is inevitable. Make sure you’re ready for those changes with the right hardware as you embark on your Linux Journey and be ready to be amazed.

Are YOU ready for Linux?

2016 was the Best Year for Linux

2016 was unequivocally Linux’s best year yet. It’s on more devices than ever before and more secure than ever before. Were there embarrassing moments along the way? Yes, I kept reasonably close to the news and watched a few of these evolve and get patched as quickly as they were found.

I’d also like to predict that 2017 will end being Linux’s best year yet. And I’ll even go one year further than other folks making predictions and say that 2018 will top them all.

For those of you who are glass half empty folks, let’s talk about a couple of the flaws found in 2016. LUKS looked pretty bad and Dirty Cow caused a few headaches, but the latter had a patch available within hours. And because it’s worth being redundant, let’s remember there was a patch within hours. While some would argue that the potential attack time for dirty cow was nine years, the published attack time was only a matter of hours. If you want to be a glass half empty type of person go ahead and set your clock for nine years. I still think that it was Linux’s best year ever and next year will be even better.

Why can I say this? Because Linux is honest. Honesty doesn’t mean perfection. It means openness. Linux’s faults are out there and ready for the world to see. Sometimes they’re caught early and sometimes they’re caught later.

2016 did burst the bubble on the narrative that in the land of a thousand eyeballs all bugs are shallow. It’s sounds nice, and I’m sure some projects run that way, but that’s not the way things are done anymore. I hope in 2017 we can make a better argument for open source security, and we can do it by talking about our talent management.

Outside of the honesty in the open source ecosystem, the open source talent management is our second greatest asset and every project lead knows how to leverage it. Jim Collins’ book Good to Great highlights business practices that if followed drastically improve a company’s performance in the long term. One of the most core principles is hiring the right talent, even if you have to wait for that talent to emerge. Linux’s talent management is unsurpassed because the power of that talent is published.

Want to know how good someone is? Read their code. Want to know how passionate they are? Read their posts. Bryan Lunduke has a full time job for being loud and passionate and remarkably entertaining while he flirts with a bit of rudeness. I know two project leads that recruit hires specifically from their volunteer pools. I’ve heard of Redhat and others doing the same. From what I can see, the researchers finding the bugs in the code aren’t locked behind ivory towers of corporate influence, they’re emancipated. They get hired to work on what they love and what they’re good at. They find the flaws and responsibly disclose what they’ve found. Because of their paycheck, they have the ability to research the technology that often doesn’t get looked at.

Yes these flaws get press. Shouldn’t they? Isn’t press good? Doesn’t it encourage us to audit more and improve? We’re doing that. Are the other guys? I’m confident that Redmond and Cupertino have areas that don’t gather much attention. I have a hiDPI screen and sometimes run Windows 10. I can see the areas they didn’t think anyone would notice. Not everything in Windows 10 has a hiDPI icon. I noticed. That same machine is a Lenovo. For the first time since 2009, it’s not a MacBook. Why? Because when I look at the MacBook, it’s easy to see there’s a whole division at Cupertino that isn’t getting much attention.

While our efforts may be more ad-hoc, our talent management program is better in the long term. My current employer hires only on the basis of certifications and I can see how that affects our workforce. Since they started enforcing certifications, we stopped innovating and instead merely executed. While I’m not knocking certifications, organizations who rely solely on certifications for hires often miss out on the right talent to take them from good to great. While the open source community has its share of certifications, it more importantly has an open repository of talent information.

How do we combat the glass is half empty people in the blogosphere and the occasional pessimistic podcast? Talk about our talent library. Our talent library created some of the most inventive and functional desktop interfaces ever dreamed of and only for 2% of the desktop market share. Imagine how good things will get as that percentage grows! We’re talking a lot about this year about Solus, but with a larger market share how many more Soluses are we going to see ahead? Our talent library brought us a great 2016, and it’s destined to bring us an even better 2017.

Linux 2016 – The Year of the Hard Shift

Linux Shift

I’m just going to come out and say it. This thing is being rushed because my thoughts are not exactly careening from stream-to-stream. I am so burned out waiting for the moment when Linux finally catches up with the rest of the tech industry.

I know there are a lot of you out there right now, don’t deny it, who are saying “Well, welcome to Linux! You’ve finally got your citizenship!” That’s not good enough, nor will it ever be good enough for me–not even close. I apologize right away if it offends anyone’s sensibilities. But there are days when I feel like I’m the only one who sees what’s happening.

Forget Apple. They’ve dropped the ball irrevocably this time because there will never, ever be a “mea culpa” for the new MacBook Pros. Never, ever, ever. You’ll die of old age waiting on it. If they want isolation, boy do they have it with that forehead temperature strip thing they’ve got going on above the keyboard. They’ve done pinched themselves off.

I’m talking about Microsoft. Have you seen them lately? Am I the only one who sees what’s happening after they gave Ballmer the boot? (Sorry. After he “retired.” Yeah, right.) Redmond is starting to learn from their mistakes, people. They’re now like Tony Stark after he built the thing into his armor that memorizes an offensive move from an opponent then counters it automatically. (Please read Civil War 1.) They’re actually innovating. It’s getting real.

While we’re over here still talking about which “distro” is the best and watching projects like Mycroft poop in their pants, the Surface Book is killing it. I don’t care what kinds of sales figures you throw at me concerning Surface Pro or the lasting negative impact of Windows 8 or the passed-out beer bonging of Windows 10 on machines all over the place. Microsoft doesn’t care, nor do they have to. Surface Pro’s figures have always been less-than-stellar. But they’re still here. Microsoft isn’t letting them go yet. And the Surface Book is them doubling down.

What are they doing? They’re answering a need! Say you’re a graphic designer. Sure, you’ll go for the Apple on instinct. But Microsoft has gone softer on their sales pushing and they’re starting to turn the creative people on. You don’t have to take my word for it. Go to the website. Here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/surface/devices/surface-book/overview. Look at some of these accessories that are being marketed. Pens with different points and point sizes? A freaking dial device that not only works with the aforementioned devices but directly on the Surface Studio screen? Guys, I can tell you having done more than my fair share of work in the creative side (graphic design, television production) but this makes even ME want to buy one–and not to install a Linux distro on it either.

Sure, they may not make the sales figures that Microsoft is looking for. But believe me, if the right people get their hands on these devices and they have their time to play with them, it’ll be a “Katy, bar the door!” moment. So I’ll come right back around and say that Microsoft might very well make the sales figures they’re looking for.

This is why I’m going to go on-record and make the grand prediction that 2017 will be the year of the hardware shift. There will be less focus on software (that includes operating systems) and more of finally figuring out things to do with them. Devices like the Surface Dial are something we need to be worried about if we ever want to see Bryan Lunduke’s latest prediction of the Linux desktop market share going up to 3%, no disrespect to the great one. Everybody can come back at the end of next year and beat the crap out of me Reddit style if I’m wrong.

Hardware How?

We all know that the Linux presence is “kinda-sorta” there with great companies like System 76, Entroware and others. Okay, okay. It needs to stay there. So the call needs to go out to you and all your friends and your pets that these are the companies you need to be buying from. Yeah, you pay more. But if we want to see the miracle happen then we need to be party to it. The more wallet filler they get from us, the more they can innovate beyond laptops and desktops and servers. Why do we want them to do this? Because the days of Linux being in the safe zone of the servers are over. You want the company down the street to start using Linux? Then you need to be able to preach the gospel with evidence. Everyone on earth has seen a computer. They run as fast as we want them to run now. We need hardware extensions that allow us to take advantage of that speed. Speed we have; now we need to adjust our dexterity scores with cool gadgets that empower people who work on the front lines.

When the Linux-powered hardware and workstation companies get their funds, they can hire people to really help them innovate and compete with Redmond and Cupertino.
The World Doesn’t Need One More Distro.

Sometimes you can just feel death threats coming and I’m sure I’m going to get a few now. Look, there are leaders in this area and there are followers. 2016 is almost gone and the cream has risen. You want your distros, here they are: Solus, Ubuntu MATE and Elementary. These are the distros of the future. If you want to use “Oogly-Boogly OS”, that’s your call. It’s going to dry up and blow away most likely, but go ahead. But the community doesn’t need any more of our resources going into an OS that maybe ten people will use. It’s time to pivot hard.

We have 3D printers now. We have the Raspberry Pi and a bunch of other boards ready-to-go with all the technology you could ever need. It’s time to get down and create devices that people can touch and relate to. People who aren’t programmers and engineers like interfaces that make sense to them. Thus, we have everything it takes to push the likes of Microsoft to the mat.

So where is it?

Well, we had our chance with the Ubuntu Edge phone. That failed. Forget the reasons, it’s not coming back. Everybody has a phone anyway. Forget the Sailfish tablet. It had its chance. It’s not coming back. Everybody has a tablet anyway. Canonical ran to the refuge of server space and they’ve presented the world with some impressive technologies. Why, they’ve even been dating Windows Server. Personally, I still don’t trust them. It’s called competition for a reason.

What we do have are hundreds of projects just a few clicks away on any crowdfunding site you dare to choose. Pick one–one that makes sense and that you can see in the hands of everyday working people. Make it innovative, but practical. People like new ways of doing things that make their work easier and that makes them feel more empowered. Then get your credit or bank card out and put some funding behind it. Or, pitch in with your expertise and vision and start your own project.

We all should know by now what happens when you get the right people behind the right projects. They just work. Linux itself is a testament to that. But the world wants to know “What have you done for me today?”. The best part of that is the world loves asking that question. It’s where Linux people were born and raised.

Do your part in wiping out burnout today by contributing to projects that work and let’s use the power we have instead of reinventing the machine one more time. 2017 approaches. Right now, the world is watching the other guys. Let’s make them watch us again.