When reason goes out the window

Been reading some of the comments to the recent GNOME Foundation press release about OOXML involvement. Reading things like the comments on osnews and linux.com leaves me in a state of disbelief.

When you have people like Michael Meeks and Jody Goldberg, who have been working on free software office software for a longer time than most others in the community has even been using free software, it is sad to see people trying to claim they know more about the respective qualities of the ODF and OOXML standards than they do. The claims of being corporate shills sounds even more hollow considering these people have been working on free software office software for much longer than they have been paid to do so. Having known especially Michael for many years and had many a beer with him I it saddens me when people in the community doubt his word. Michael care about free software, but whats maybe more important in this context is that he cares about technical excellence.
And thus he is not willing to claim that the ODF spreadsheet specification is better than the OOXML one when he, based on his eight years worth of hacking experience doing spreadheet software in the context of Gnumeric and OpenOffice, knows it not to be the case.

The question worth asking here is if the community has come to a point where we no longer care about quality and technical perfection in what we do, instead we are going to join the proprietary software vendors in a game of FUD and mud slinging. When I started out with free software it felt as the ethos of the community was that we are not a community of people blinded by pride or arrogance instead we happily adopt and evolve the best of what is out there. If that means adapting to standards and formats originally developed by Microsoft then so be it.

Michael has been tirelessly been promoting OpenOffice for quite a few years now, even working on it and promoting it at a time when most GNOME developers felt it was a bloated and unmaintainable piece of software and most the code comments where in German. Through his and his team’s effort OpenOffice has gone from being something screaming Windows 3.11 when looking at it to something that actually looks like it belongs on my GNOME desktop. And there is no longer a half hour wait for it to start up.

I use OpenOffice.org every day doing my job today. Back in the day when I was at Oracle I couldn’t do that. Not because Oracle refused me to do so, but simply because most of Oracle’s documents where in MS Office format and at that time the OpenOffice filters where not good enough to do the job, so I had to dual boot into Windows in order to write reports for customers, fill in expense reports and so on.

Even in my current job, doing linux consultancy work around free software technologies like GStreamer, Telepathy and Webkit I would not be able to use OpenOffice if it wasn’t for the excellent MS Office compatibility. The vast majority of documents and proposals I receive from our customers are in those formats. I haven’t gotten any OOXML documents yet, but it is only a matter of time and when it start to happen I would gradually be forced back to my old dual booting ways unless OpenOffice supports OOXML in a good way.

So Jody if you are reading this, please don’t listen to the detractors and instead keep up doing such great work. I for one would be sad if I have to install windows on my laptop again because you stopped pushing OOXML in the right direction.

Open Source Video Codecs

At various recent conferences I have been asked if I think there is any hope for free software video codecs. Outside the core linux community the amount of people who even know that Theora exists is still quite small. That said and while it still is a big canvas to bleach, I do think open source video codecs have a mainstream future. At least most Linux companies are providing Theora copies of their promotional videos now, which it wasn’t that long ago they didn’t. We are still a bit raw on the tools side though, and while Pitivi is making good strides forward, its still isn’t ready for production use. One great piece of news on the Theora side of things is that Red Hat has Monty working on improving Theora further to improve video quality and get the magic 1.0 release of libtheora out. Check out this write up by Monty to get the details.

Dirac is also making strong strides forward and version 0.9.0 of libschrodinger, which got released today, will feel like a great leap forward for the causal tester. Most noticeable is that David Schleef tweaked the default parameters of the encoder to produce even nice looking images when transcoding high definition clips. This means that even if the tons of parameters you can set on the encoder is ancient Greek for you you can still play with it and create good looking video’s.

David also spent a lot of time for this release allowing you to set a specific bitrate for the encoded file, a feature a know a lot of users have wanted. That said the bitrate specification for Dirac is still not finished so any files produced with this version are not likely to keep working as development continues. But at least you can play with it now and get an idea of what Dirac will be able to do in the near future.

And of course on the horizon we do have the mp3 and mpeg2 patents ticking down towards expiration within the next 2-3 years, making these extremely common codecs free.

ECE in Linz

So Wim and I spent this weekend in Linz representing Collabora at the 9th Realtime linux Conference and the European CE Linux conference. Had a great time there, meeting a lot of interesting people. Not as many GNOME people as last one, but some familiar GNOME people like Dodji from Opened Hand and Marcel Holtman of Bluetooth hacking fame. Of course meeting Marcel at a conference is not particularly hard as he seems to be invited to attend them all :)

Had quite a few meetings with various of the embedded companies there and I think we walked away with a few solid business leads. Wim and I also probably walked away a few kilos heavier after gobbling gigantic ice creams at an Austrian ice cream cafe almost every day.

I am back in Cambridge now, while Wim will be heading up to Dublin to stay with Jan and Jaime for some days. Wim also hopes to brainstorm playbin2 with Jan while there to see if we can get some progress on that.

Back at the office I am admiring the PS3 Devkit Sony has sent us, the thing is quite big, but not as big as I feared. Tim will be starting hacking on it in the very near future to see what we can do. This means of course a partial return to the gaming industry for Wim, so maybe we will end up making a PS3 sequel to Wim’s game Puffy’s Saga ;).