Linux 2017 – Looking Ahead

LINUX 2017

As the year 2016 draws nearer to a close, I would like to offer some thoughts about the last year in Linux and maybe even dare to make a few predictions for 2017. Please do keep in mind that nothing I say herein is based in any hard fact but rather comes from my own perceptions, hearsay and conjecture on my part. Do with them what you will and feel free to disagree at any point along the way.

LOOKING BACK

2016 started full of hope for Linux fans but those hopes were dashed when the much anticipated Ubuntu 16.04 and Fedora 24 landed chocked full of bugs and driver issues. Some of us who follow these things closely expressed dismay over the problems encountered by users. A few bug-a-boos are to be expected in new releases, but these were big Vietnamese Hissing Cockroach-sized bugs that turned out to be show stoppers for some users.

Canonical, the keepers of Ubuntu, seemed to spend more time worrying about phones and integrating Bash into Windows 10 than putting out a stable Long Term Support (LTS) desktop release. Canonical’s Ubuntu team did fix many of those issues and it is now almost as stable as the much-lauded 14.04 release. Most are happy with Ubuntu now or have moved on to greener pastures. ‘Nuff said.

There were no huge innovations to speak of nor were there any major victories this last Linux year but a lot of little things have happened to make one feel confident that Linux will be even better in 2017. Fedora 25, just released a couple of weeks ago, has improved on 24 with lots of speed and it’s the first distro to ship with the snazzy new Wayland display manager turned on by default. Ubuntu has promised Unity 8 and maybe even their own Mir Display Manager will land in Ubuntu 17.04. That would mean a huge change for Ubuntu, not the least of which is a move from a GTK to a QT-based desktop. We shall see how that goes. Ubuntu is also leading development of the distro-agnostic Snappy Package format and that is coming along nicely. A universal way to get pre-packaged software onto a Linux system will make Linux friendlier for developers and users alike.

Oh, as for why I am focusing on Ubuntu and Fedora here… It’s because the rest of the Linux Ecosystem pretty much follows their lead. Aside from, Arch and OpenSUSE, most of the myriad of other distros out there are based on Ubuntu or the Red Hat/CentOS/Fedora family.

Then there is Solus.

Solus has been around for awhile now. It really came into its own in the last year, though. Ikey Doherty and his merry band of developers have worked hard to come up with something that is completely new. Solus features its very own Budgie desktop environment. Budgie is kind of like a minimalist’s vision of what Gnome 3 set out to be. What really sets Solus apart is the fact that’s it’s not based on any other Linux distro, not even a little bit. Solus is built from the ground up with cleaner code and a new vision of what an OS should be like for its users. Most of the popular apps are already available and more are being added all the time. Solus bares close watching in 2017. It may be your next Linux distribution of choice.

HARDWARE

Linux users used to be able to pop up to the local Big Box Store and snag a cheap PC off the shelf. They’d take that home and then proceed to destroy all traces of the virus known as Windows and happily install whatever flavor of Linux they wanted to. With the rise of Secure Boot and UEFI in place of the old familiar BIOS, that has become more challenging in the last year than ever. Some OEMs have committed the ability to disable Secure Boot or make it very difficult for all but the most tech savvy users. This is a pain for folks like me who help others get Linux going. And a significant barrier to folks who want to give Linux a whirl.

The bright side is that there are now many different companies selling nice machines that come preloaded with Linux. No need to pay for a proprietary OS license just to dump it anymore and you can boot up the machine, add your account and start using it. Folks who buy machines with Windows and Mac OS usually don’t have to go through the process of installing from scratch. Historically, installing from scratch was how most folks got started with Linux. Now that Linux hardware is abundant and easily obtainable at reasonable prices it can do nothing but bode well for the future of Linux on the desktop.

It could very well be argued that most folks don’t need a traditional Laptop or Desktop PC anymore. A lot of folks get what they want to get done done on tablets and smartphones. That’s fine with me because those who want to develop, create or tightly control their privacy in cyberspace will always gravitate to more sophisticated hardware to get the job done. Linux is the logical choice for these kinds of folks because it is fast becoming the only economically and ethically viable system for serious users.

APPLE AND MICROSOFT PUSH USERS TO LINUX! (Yes, really!)

Let’s start with MS, shall we? Windows 10 is a disaster for MS and between the numerous bugs and crashes and the fact that MS is using the OS as a platform to spy on its user base, even the most die-hard Windows folks are getting fed up. I have been surprised to hear many Windows Fanboys who would laugh at Linux and miss no opportunity to publicly deride those of us who use Linux say with just as much gusto that they will never, ever use Windows 10. This leaves them in a bad place because Windows 7 and 8 are obviously a dead end. MS is adamant about moving everyone to Win 10 and there is even evidence out there that they have crippled older-than-10 installs that screw up the systems, forcing users to either upgrade or buy a new PC. Don’t believe me? Look it up for yourself.

I’ve heard some Windows folks say that they’re going to dump their PCs in favor of a Mac and I would have felt like that was an improvement in the past. The only problem is that Apple, too, is making moves that are raising eyebrows among long-time Mac users. One good friend of mine who has been a staunch Mac supporter for years is now so disgusted that he’s seriously looking at Linux to replace all of his macs.

The latest crop of hardware from Apple comes with a lack of standard connectors. Users find themselves having to buy a bunch of dongles just to do what they have already been doing and on top of that Apple has imposed “End Of Life” on many older Macs. Since Mac OS is inexorably tied to Apple hardware and the prices are exorbitant when compared to comparable PC’s of the same caliber, it would seem that the walls are closing in on Mac people. This would also seem to validate my sneaking suspicion that Walled Gardens might be pretty to look at and fun to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Linux is becoming a more attractive alternative than ever. I welcome all of these poor souls who come to Linux for shelter from the storm and I hope you will too. They will need your help and mine.

LINUX: STILL A HOUSE DIVIDED

All of this encouraging stuff is fine but one thing that I have found over the last year is that the Linux Community is still filled with folks who just don’t know how to get along with other folks. The divisions are just as wide as ever and it makes us all look bad to anyone looking in from the outside. The comments on my social media are generally positive but there are enough negative ones to be a concern to me. Those comments range from the idiotic to violent enough to be scary. Any YouTube creator or blog writer who offers anything controversial, even just declaring a personal distaste for one desktop environment over another, subjects themselves to a onslaught of vitriolic comments.

All this infighting is counterproductive and childish. Think about it. Does it not make us all look bad? Would it not lead someone to believe that Linux is nothing more than a Wild West town with no sheriff to enforce law and order? I have made a pledge to myself to avoid opinions and subjects I know will fan the flames. In 2017, I plan on focusing on offering content that will teach people something. I have decided to drop distro reviews and most commentary from my channel.

I encourage you to do the same if you have a stake in the future of Linux. We need to be on our best behavior in the coming year. We have a lot of new folks coming to visit. Let’s be nice to them and make them want to stay.

ONE MORE THING…

2016 has had one very strange and long running storyline that has intrigued me quite a bit. Microsoft, the creators of the dreaded Windows virus, have loved up on Linux. This has raised a lot of speculation in the tech world and I can’t help but think that they are heading somewhere with all of this. It started with MS adding Ubuntu/Bash to Windows 10 and since then we have had some otherwise MS-only app or service ported to Linux just about every month. It was just a few weeks ago that MS became members of the Linux Foundation, with a seat on the board and everything. Could we be seeing the groundwork being laid for MS to introduce their very own Linux Distribution sometime in the distant future? What if they did? What if they made it mostly open-sourced and it would run Linux apps and also offer a great platform for running traditional Windows apps as well? I doubt MS would make it a free download if they did but it might be that they might charge something like $25 for it instead of the $100 plus they currently charge for Windows 10. Could it be that they are looking ahead and looking at the quagmire Windows code has become and thinking of a way to start fresh?

The implications are astounding… Whether or not it would be a good thing or a bad thing I can’t tell but it would certainly change the landscape of computing for all and good if they did.

Would you buy a copy of MS-Linux and give it a try? I would. Just a thought…

Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s all hope it’s a good one.

Overthinking Font Installation

Over Thinking Installing Fonts Title

If you overthink a problem, you’re bound to make it harder than it needs to be. My experience with Linux has taught me to respect the simplicity and elegance of the command line, easy access to system files and the beauty of collaboration that creates such functional tools. Recently, I’ve been impassioned by what is likely another very odd hobby. I’ve fallen in love with fonts.

My passion with this newfound arena has grown in part because it feels like I’ve stumbled on a world that’s always been there, but I’ve never noticed it before. It’s like when I took the math class in college on contemporary mathematical topics and learned about mobius strips, gerrymandering, gps satellite calculations, and later hexaflexagons. It’s like when Luke discovers the force or you find there’s multiple ways to end a level in Super Mario World.

Over Thinking Installing Fonts

Those uninitiated to the font world who might need an introduction could start with this quick rundown of resources:

For those of you already aware of this amazing world of letter dressing you’ll find the above list remarkably refreshing and easy to share.

Now, let’s talk about trying to figure out how to manage fonts on Linux. Because my other operating systems (Max OS-X and Windows 10) make managing fonts with font managers I expected the same on Linux. While I was playing around with Kubuntu over the weekend I discovered a very elegant interface to a font manager. The plasma desktop’s clean lines and thoughtful functionality asked me if I wanted to mass install my collection of 534 fonts to the user or to the system. It accepted open type fonts (OTF) and truetype fonts (TTF) without any issue. Wonderful.

But after testing Kubuntu for a weekend, the plasma desktop didn’t feel like it was my cup of tea. I’ve traditionally been a Ubuntu MATE guy, not just because I like its project lead but because the familiarity made me more productive. I made managing fonts on MATE harder than it needed to be. I kept searching for a font manager only to find orphaned posts about font managers whose latest updates were several software generations old.

I googled harder, to no avail.

Finally, I just picked a file and clicked on the file for Trajan Pro. Such an elegant font! It has the most wonderful descending j that balances delightfully with the rest of the characters. I was surprised that after I clicked it I was greeted by a dialogue with a button to install the font. BOOM! I was in business. Individually, this solution would work to manage fonts. I was disappointed that the character preview wasn’t working, but I generally preview my fonts elsewhere before I install them on the system, so I could overlook this issue.

So if I were writing a guide for installing a single font it would look like:

1. Close the application you want to use the font in
2. Download your font.
3. Find it in the folder you downloaded
4. Double click on it.
5. Press the Install Font Button.
6. Open your application you want to use the font in
7. Donate to the project of your choice (optional)

Over Thinking Installing Fonts2

As I mentioned before, I didn’t have just one or two fonts to import. I had 534! While I did contemplate clicking the install font button 534 times I reminded myself that I was probably over-thinking it. There must be an easier way. And here’s how easy it is:

1. Close the application you want to use the font in
2. Download your font.
3. Open a File Manager Window to your home directory and view hidden files (CTRL+H)
4. Open another File Manager Window and find the fonts you downloaded
5. Copy them into the .fonts folder
6. Open your application you want to use the font in
7. Donate to the project of your choice (optional)

After discovering how easy it was to adopt my font library I was once again reminded by my love for the simple elegance that Linux offers to my weekly workflow. It’s the same love for simplicity and elegance that had me enthralled when I discovered that fonts were a thing.

 

Linux in an Apple and Microsoft World

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Apple and Microsoft are getting ready to release some new, updated machines that will hopefully address issues such as lack of innovation and “all-around craptitude.” It kind of makes me wonder if the open source community is prepared to try some introspection and ask some hard questions.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Microsoft had a kind of emotional breakdown when they started “hearting Linux.” Years and years of calling it everything but a milk cow led to a CEO shakeup (not really the cause, but still…) and supposedly a full-on acknowledgement that the open source people are onto something. Congratulations to them for coming to this realization after 25 years.

And we’ve done our share of well-deserved dogging them for that and now, well, I guess it’s time to kiss and make up. But in the meantime, I believe we need to be curious about what they’re doing in terms of hardware innovation.

Sure, Linux and open source has always been more about substance over style. Raw machine power and reliability are what we want, not necessarily chic design and gorgeousness. I said “necessarily”. But we live in a world where hit records assures rock star status. Likewise, Linux needs a machine that rocks like Sabbath, but looks like Taylor Swift.

Why? Because, my friends, this is a new era. Newer Linux operating systems that exist to have a broad appeal are not slouches in the looks department. Design and ingenuity are now complementing power and efficiency. We’ve always known this was possible. But there are those who are actually doing it. Look at the likes of Elementary, the MATEs, the Budgies; they’re all producing something with beauty and brains. Shouldn’t our hardware do the same?

Don’t misunderstand; I love my System76 Gazelle Pro. It’s…attractive. It’s got it where it counts. Meanwhile, on the shores of Librem Land, they’ve got unbelievably gorgeous laptops that go to the extreme in security, but pay a hefty price in performance and hardware bugs.

Let’s not get into the fact that the prices for up-to-date configs on these machines are “Hoo Lordy!”. Let’s pretend for today that money is no object.

Isn’t it interesting how in so many years we’ve not made the same connection between aesthetics and all the other qualities that make us really want to buy a machine that ships with Linux? Not to sound elitist, but I’ve often thought of Linux people being the smartest people in the realm of technology. We’ve got a lot of folks who contribute on a non-technical level and have the design chops to make Jony Ives envious. Where the heck are they?

And why would an open source effort, with amazing design, release a half-baked laptop concept at the peril of getting less-than-stellar reviews on quality upon release? Moreover, why would they send a nasty response to reviewers for something they brought on themselves? A word to the wise would be to not put it out there unless it’s your best work, in this instance.

The sad part is I really don’t have any hard answers to these questions. Some may be locked into purchasing agreements for certain types of hardware housing that need to be reviewed. Some are banking on innovative concepts and designs to get them through the day. Here’s the fact–it’s not about surviving. When you’re all-in on hardware that everybody recognizes and uses on a daily basis, it’s about making the other guy go into survival mode. And making small batch PCs and laptops would only do more to place the onus for quality as well as design on the manufacturer. It’s about growth–going from small to big and maintaining the balances between quality, innovation and aesthetic.

Have you seen the big boys lately? Even HP has cleaned up their act–and they had some fugly machines. Quality? Ehhhh…I don’t know. I’d like to get my hands on one of their newest and try them out. But for sure, they’ve upped their game since they realize that they might be actually competing against the likes of Apple.

And Chromebooks? Have you seen some of the newest of these machines? The new Acer Chromebook 15 is just lovely! It’s a good, solid machine and not even that much more expensive than its predecessors.

This only makes the point even more relevant. You don’t have to price yourself out of business to put on a better looking outfit.
Granted, I understand that in the Linux world it’s often a matter of moving sand dunes with teaspoons. Often, the rug gets yanked and, lo and behold, where the heck is Mycroft? What happened to the promise of mailpile? Why can I only name three companies that manufacture and ship PCs with Linux pre-installed?

Maybe it’s time some effort is focused on addressing these issues to make Linux pre-installed hardware more of a driving force. Thank God for System76 and Entroware, ZaReason, and ThinkPenguin. But we need more competition in this market. That kind of energy comes with innovation, good looks, reliability and even lower prices pre-installed.

That’s what I call a dream machine.

Is Open Source Design a Thing?

Open Source Design Toolbox

The prowess and power of Open Source is undeniable. From servers, to the desktop, mobile, to the underpinnings of the so-called “Internet of Things”, Open Source spans sectors and continents, public and private. One profession, however, that has traditionally been dominated by closed, proprietary software solutions – and usually very expensive ones at that! – is the field of design. In this article, we’ll take a look at some free and open source options to pad, if not replace your existing design arsenal. Maybe you’re a designer just starting out and you are understandably on a budget. Maybe you’re more seasoned and simply want to adopt more of an “open” workflow. Read on and let’s see what the free and open source software world has to offer!

GRAPHICS

In the open source world, there are a few very formidable and viable alternatives to the mainstays offered by Adobe.

GIMP

The GIMP or GNU Image Manipulation Program is a very a powerful free and open source alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop. Developed and maintained by a sizeable core team, GIMP offers powerful photo editing tools for the design creative, such as filters, brushes, retouching. It can even handle .PSD files if you want to make use of UX/UI libraries for your design mock-ups. Finally, GIMP can also be used for digital art, logos and the like. GIMP is available as a free download for Linux, MacOS and Windows.

Inkscape

Inkscape, whose moniker, well represents their core values – “Draw Freely” – is an Open Source and free alternative to another Adobe product, Illustrator, a powerful but proprietary and expensive, vector program. Inkscape offers a plethora of design and drawing tools, easy to navigate color selection, filters and gradient tools and much, much more. Designers committed to open source solutions will also find good documentation online in the form of blog posts and forum posts. Like GIMP, Inkscape is free to download on Linux, MacOS and Windows.

Want to learn from some seasoned graphic and web designers making use of these open source tools? Check out these YouTubers:

  • Nick Saporito (Nick is an excellent resource for an introduction to the basic features of Inkscape you’ll use on a daily basis as a logo, web or graphic designer).
  • Irfan Prastinato (Irfan’s channel highlights modern logo creation through the power of Inkscape).
  • Cameron Bohnstedt (Cameron is a digital artist who really showcases the power of open source tools (GIMP Inkscape, Blender) in the hands of a seasoned pro. Inspirational and informative).

WEB DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to designing and prototyping full-fledged, feature rich, responsive websites there are several options – some of them open source – for the designer. These options have come such a long way in recent years, that they are, in my opinion, a reflection, if not the reality of what responsive web design needs to look like as the devices we create for change as rapidly as design trends do.

Bootstrap

In my opinion, Bootstrap has advanced and really pushed the responsive, even mobile-first design envelope forward, leaps and bounds. Originally crafted by Twitter developers Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton, Bootstrap is a framework that allows you to make sites that fit your client’s needs, fully open source and fully customizable. With Bootstrap you’ll get a rock solid base with Bootstrap 4.0, currently in alpha, promises many under-the-hood improvements to an already solid version 3.0, including the move from Less to Sass, an enhanced grid system, a reworking of JavaScript plugins, and much more.

Gravit

Another up and coming free and open source vector program garnering much well-deserved attention is Gravit. Running in your browser, Gravit is not only a viable alternative to Adobe Illustrator from a vector standpoint (though not as feature rich), but also holds promise as a full-fledged design environment. You can straightforwardly and simply design everything from logos, to print work to mobile apps and websites. I’ve relied upon Gravit for some of the work I’ve done recently, since it’s available to me in the my browser of choice, in addition to being powerful, simple, clean and intuitive.

Some Free, But Not Open Source, Solutions…

Webflow

Webflow is a powerful all-encompassing web design environment, running in the comfort of your browser. The wonder of Webflow is the ability to design without coding, essentially, and while you design, have the code generated for you behind the scenes, as it were. I find the interface of Webflow to be clean, crisp and easy to follow…intuitive. Admittedly, Webflow isn’t Open Source, but there is a free option that allows a designer two projects at a time as they design and develop their sites.

Froont

Another browser-based web design program is Froont. Similar to Webflow, Froont is very intuitive, cleanly designed and powerful. You can effectively and efficiently design an entire website that is fresh, unique and, most of all, responsive, working on all relevant devices. Finally, Froont, like Webflow allows the designer to export code as needed.

Both Webflow and Froont have free options in addition to paid plans, perfect for building out a site at a time, allowing you to also publish your work to the web, if you so choose.

Text Editors

There are several options for designers and developers who want an open source and free alternative to write and/or edit code.

Atom

Billed as a “hackable editor for the 21st Century”, Atom is a full-featured text editor with seemingly every built-in feature – like auto-complete and multi-pane views – needed to get the job done, but also completely hackable, allowing the user to customize to their liking. There’s also a package manager, in which users can download thousands of packages to customize Atom further and add unique levels of functionality.

CONCLUSION

In this day and age, designers need not feel captive to expensive, bloated, proprietary software. With several free and open source tools at their disposal, the budget and free and Open Source-conscience designer has more than enough options to create, beautiful and functional designs for their clients! Please share this article if you liked it, and hit me up in the comments below with your favorite Open Source design tools!

Caged Heat: Using Open Source in a Windows Workplace

cagedheat

I work primarily with Windows but let me say that I, like many of you, have no choice in the matter. We don’t live in a world where the company tells us, “Well, here’s Microsoft Office and everything we do is on a web app. Have fun!” My goodness, that would be a relative paradise for many people. You could potentially go hog wild and use the applications you want.

Still, a lot of us work with very clunky tools sometimes set on a gray-haired version of Java and birthed from Windows installers. It’s a sad reality that a lot of highly-specialized practice software applications, many of which attach to MICROSOFT databases, will only run on Windows because the developer is selling these apps for profit and not for fun. They also happen to know that 95% of the market is drenched in……Windows.

Sometimes it’s just company policy–huge barrier. Quite frankly, with all this talk about diversity in the workplace you’d think they’d include operating systems in the conversation. I’m going to copy and paste that last thought into another file because there may be another article in that, if not a Google+ rant. Ranting’s fun.

I decided I would let one of two young men prevail in this situation. One could win by simply residing to inferior tools and being miserable at work, taking frequent Indeed.com breaks. The other, however, is a bit more calm and reasonable and searches for open source tools that do the same job, if not better. So let’s take a look at some of the work-safe alternatives that can help you not only get the job done, but maybe even help you excel (D’AAAAH! Excel!) and get the job done better and more efficiently.

vim emacslogo

Report Analysis–Vim, Emacs

The “Swiss Army Knives” of development are a data analyst’s dream. Honestly, I know someone who was using Microsoft Word and Excel for this, switching back and forth between applications. It was like a sad dance that sent the message of “You’ll never have a homelife again.” This person would honestly cry at work. (No, it wasn’t me.)

It takes some time to learn these tools effectively and you’ll want to brush up on your regular expressions. But it’s probably the best kept secret in the data analytics world.

For example, when you look at a report, you understand there’s a rhyme and reason to each sequence, each space, each character position. Raw data is highly efficient, but not fun. But if you open it for editing in a text synthesizer, like Vim, combine it with your regex skills and follow your corporate reporting guides (if you have them) and you could have a very productive work day. You can write regex to do so many amazing operations that you’ll be able to spot report anomalies like a ravenous hawk and make those corrections. Again, it takes a little practice, but it’s easier than you might think.

mysql

Database Queries–MySQL Workbench

You probably balk at the mention of Oracle. But let’s not forget that they’ve also purch…sorry, given us some great tools that don’t cost one thin dime. This is one of my personal favorite tools.

Assuming you have read/write access to your company’s database, you can make changes to as many elements as you need quickly and easily. Keep in mind that you might need a little cooperation from your company’s IT department and others in order to be able to connect this tool to a database. But explain to them the benefits of this product and you might make some believers out of them.

Also, if you’re one of those who don’t and never will get write access, MySQL Workbench will still work very nicely in allowing you to pull data quickly and in very easy-to-read output. This app is your friend.

libreoffice-5

General Productivity–LibreOffice

I love LibreOffice because it’s founded on some very solid code and is developed by one of the most dedicated communities in the entire world. They understand that there is not one among us who has a job that isn’t touched by the classic elements of the productivity suite. Even if you’re not in a company that has embraced the open document way of doing business, then you’re covered with Microsoft file format compatibility.

I can testify about a certain situation in a previous job involving our corporate Intranet. LibreOffice was our ticket. We actually ran into a situation where we were creating online training quizzes in a very ancient, yet very comfortable for our executives. Due to a change in its HTML export features, MS Office wasn’t cutting it. We decided to give LibreOffice a try and, perhaps due to the formatting of the quizzes being closely aligned with an older version of PowerPoint, the new online quizzes worked. Make no mistake, they were as ugly as they ever were. But that’s what the company wanted. Thank you, Document Foundation.

If you’re one of those who tried OpenOffice (RIP) back in the day but weren’t impressed with the slowness in opening Excel spreadsheet files, you’ll be delighted at how quickly they load now; it’s pretty much seamless.

Users will also note the simplicity in the features and menu items across LibreOffice apps in comparison to MS Office’s. Sure, it’s not as “cutting-edge” as Microsoft would have you think. But let’s be honest–how many features in Office are you ever going to use? If you have no caveats in this area, then LibreOffice could be your man.

If, however, you work in a department that has heavily scripted its productivity suite workflow, you may succeed or fail when trying LibreOffice for the same tasks without reinventing the wheel. So in some cases, LibreOffice is more of a qualified recommendation.

Also, I’ve heard from many accountants that Excel is really the only way to go in terms of spreadsheet use. But that’s a very good discussion idea for another day, if I do say so myself.

firefox

Web Applications–Firefox Browser

This one shouldn’t be a surprise. The fact is that a lot of business, such as PeopleSoft from Oracle, are web apps, connected to via a URL, the browser acting as host for the interface that connects to a remote server. Some hate this but some love it. Depending on your Internet connection your experience will range from “No problem!” to “Noooo!!! Problem!!!”

Assuming your place of business has listened to its reliable sources in the IT department and the planets have aligned toward that end, your connection speed will be phenomenally good and web apps will be something you’ll be able to love, at least in the connection and interface areas. (How you feel about the application itself is subject to whether or not your monitor has sustained any injuries inflicted by you. Don’t do anything like this.)

The ability to run an application like this in a browser such as full-bodied and dependency-satisfying as Firefox is a great thing in more than one way. Depending on the app, there are cases in which you can actually run it very well in a proper Linux desktop. Huh? You like that? I can tell you from my PeopleSoft experience that I have run it successfully in Linux serveral times inside Firefox. Beware any updates that could break the compatibility, but it worked for me.

Worst case scenario, you could possibly still run the app on the Windows version of Firefox.

The Good Kind of Rebellion

There’s a distinction I’m trying to draw here, so don’t take it at the most academic sense. There’s a difference between this and mutiny. The goal should always be to get the job done and done well and for your rewards to follow. That said, this is not my way of co-signing anything that could potentially hurt your position at work or to hurt your workplace in any way. Always check with your immediate supervisor and let them know your intentions are to simply do your job while adhering to certain software preferences. Make your case diplomatically. Who knows? You might be able to convince them how much better Linux and open source is at doing the job where you work. At the very least, between you and me, we know there’s almost always a better way than Windows.

Attributes of Effective Project Managers

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In most work spaces, individuals are at least partially motivated by their salary to contribute to the project for which they are assigned.  Leaders may possess various and commendable attributes in this scenario but they have the ability to leverage salary to motivate others.  What happens when the salary isn’t there and how does it change the attributes of effective project managers?

I’m a fan of open source software development and have been following some projects for several years through various iterations of development.  Recently, I had the opportunity to interview two of the project managers prominent in the open source community.  The first was Martin Wimpress who manages the Ubuntu MATE project and Frank Karlitschek now the project manager for NextCloud.  In both interviews, I got a peek at the attributes that have helped make these individuals successful project managers of a nearly all volunteer workforce.  I’d like to share three that are often overlooked for projects that rely heavily on volunteers.

Building Trust

Technical competency is certainly key but being individual competency doesn’t directly correlate to inspiring a workforce.  Instead, both Martin and Frank appear to use their technical competency for more than just code production.  They use it to build trust among those who would be volunteers.  During my time with Frank, he talked about how for his project it was difficult to create a singular shared understanding for NextCloud among his diverse volunteers and so instead he retooled his software to serve as a platform that others with different visions could build from and tie into without being formally adopted under the umbrella of his project.  He understood his project’s scope and made clear lines to where it ends.  To him, every line of code is a line that has to be maintained and long-term success is dependent upon code maintenance.  Knowing the boundaries of a project contribute to trust because they help establish the predictability necessary for success.  With NextCloud’s rapid expansion, it’s obviously working.

Gratitude

Volunteers often work for both philanthropic and selfish reasons.  For example, contributing to FreeBSD and having your code approved can translate to a career-building resume bullet (nearly ⅓ of the world’s internet traffic runs on FreeBSD).  While not every contribution translates into a resume bullet, volunteers generally contribute more of their talents when their contributions are recognized.  Martin takes great pride in publicly sharing information about how he gives back to his volunteers in the form of reasonably-sized monetary gifts.  He remarked to me how one gift bought a programmer a new chair.  While it may not seem like much, the contribution made a significant difference to that person’s sense of value to the project.  Martin noticed that since the chair arrived the change requests for Ubuntu MATE that come from that programmer with the happy hind quarters seem to become his highest priority and Martin generally gets the changes in short order.

Accepting Risk

Sometimes things don’t go as planned or on schedule.  Volunteers don’t always prioritize their contributions to your project the same way the project manager does.  This can put the project at risk for missing published deadlines or making deadlines, but having the quality called into question.  Martin’s risk comes in the form of scheduled release cycles (every six months), whereas Frank’s is more iterative.  He controls the release schedule, but has direct competition that requires him to develop at a faster pace to stay competitive.  In both cases, each project manager reduces their risk by actively seeking out new talent and assistance.  They are frequent guests on open source oriented programs presenting their projects as professionally run groups happy to welcome like minded contributors.  This campaign helps to retain interest of current members and encourages new ones to join.  Many open source projects reduce the risk of ineffective full time employees by selecting employees from the pool of already contributing volunteers.

While there may be many attributes of an effective project manager, I believe there are also different skill requirements based on the project management environment.  An organization run by volunteers requires different leadership skills to ensure its long-term viability.  The three I’ve chosen to focus on here are certainly worth highlighting though the list is not conclusive.  Building Trust, Gratitude, and Accepting Risk are certainly a part of the equation.  Would you suggest recording these or is there something you feel was left off the list?  Let me know in the comments.