February 2007

Frances Allen Wins the Turing Award

by Joey deVilla on February 22, 2007

Frances Allen, winner of the 2007 Turing Award

For me, one of the lines that really stood out in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash was the narrator’s remark on sexism in computer science. In the novel, the hackers of the exclusive online hangout, The Black Sun, had dismissed a female programmer’s work as relatively unimportant, an act which was summarized this way:

It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.

If the techie attitude towards women in the early 21st century setting of Snow Crash — a world extrapolated from the technology and social mores of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where it wasn’t unthinkable for a teenage girl to get a high-speed skateboard courier job — was bad, it must have been far worse when this year’s A.M. Turing Award winner, Frances E. Allen, joined IBM back in 1957. Back then, IBM was being rather cutting-edge by encouraging women technologists to join the company with a brochure titled My Fair Ladies (pictured below).IBM’s “My Fair Ladies” 1957 recruitment brochure for women.

Allen was given the award to honor her for her work at IBM on compiler optimization techniques. The work for which she is noted in described in this IBM article:

Widely recognized for her fundamental work on the theory of program optimization and of leading PTRAN (Parallel Translations) project, she is regarded as a pioneer in the field of optimizing compilers, which she explains as “translating the language a program is written in into language appropriate for the hardware…to best exploit the performance potential of that hardware.” Allen’s personal contribution has been developing underlying algorithms that are effective across many types of hardware and in diverse situations.

In addition to her work on compilers, Allen is also noted as being a mentor to many during her 45-year career at IBM, considering it part of her day-to-day work. Her work in mentoring is so notable that IBM established the Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award, of which she was first recipient in 2000.

This isn’t Allen’s “first woman to win this honor” moment, either; in 1989, she was the first woman to become an IBM Fellow. Other awards she has earned include Grace Hopper’s Celebration of Women in Computing Award (as one of the most successful women in the computing field) and Ada Lovelace award for her “outstanding scientific and technical achievements and extraordinary service to the computing community through her accomplishments and contributions on behalf of women in computing.”

We at Global Nerdy salute you, Ms. Frances Allen, with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

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GAYD gone; Google Apps takes on Microsoft Office

by george on February 22, 2007

The Google Apps for Your Domain (GAYD) brand may be no more, but its successor, Google Apps, has taken on a much higher profile today: Google’s announced the for-pay Google Apps Premium targeted at large organizations.

The premium package bundles:

  • Gmail (10GB storage, ad-free, with BlackBerry support)
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Talk
  • Google Start Page
  • Google Pages Creator
  • Google Docs & Spreadsheets

For $50 per user/year.

Premium users get access to a set of APIs (such as single sign on through parter services from Sxip), which should allow enterprise customers to integrate their Google Apps suite with other applications.

The New York Times is just one of the many pubs covering this announcement to note that this is Google’s most direct threat to Microsoft yet:

By comparison, businesses pay on average about $225 a person annually for Office and Exchange, the Microsoft server software typically used for corporate e-mail systems, in addition to the costs of in-house management, customer support and hardware, according to the market research firm Gartner.

Google said initial customers of Google Apps would include a unit of Procter & Gamble and SalesForce.com, a pioneer in the business of delivering software as an Internet service.

“We are in the process of phasing out Microsoft Office and Exchange from our company,” said Marc Benioff, the chief executive of SalesForce.com and a frequent Microsoft critic.

GE, incidentally, is another enterprise charter customer for Google Apps.

Despite the coverage, this is by no means a battle of equals. Yet. Microsoft’s Office suite is more complete (it includes a local database and presentation program, and is tightly integrated with Microsoft’s business graphics and project management tools), more powerful, works offline, and is more entrenched (a scary amount of people’s work involves Visual Basic for Applications scripts). Those strengths, however, are also Google’s opening.

Microsoft claims nearly a half-billion Office users out there, about 7.5% of the world’s population (that number seems crazy, but I bet that official estimate doesn’t even account for people using pirated copies!). You can be sure that a huge chunk of that user base barely scratches the surface of what Office can do. They use Excel to make lists and perform simple arithmetic. They use Word as a glorified text processor. They never touch the journaling features in Outlook. If big companies can serve those users’ needs with Google Apps tomorrow as well as they do with Office today, I’m sure they’ll at least take the time to crunch some numbers and ask some questions.

Their business cases will, no doubt, be created in Word and Excel, and presented in PowerPoint.

Source: Google Press Center: Press Release

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Linksys and Apple iPhones

Well, that’s one lawsuit down: Cisco and Apple have not only agreed to share the “iPhone” trademark, but it also seems as if there’s even going to be a little cooperation between the two companies. Apple’s press statement is so terse that I can actually quote it in its entirety below:

SAN JOSE and CUPERTINO, California—February 21, 2007—Cisco and Apple® today announced that they have resolved their dispute involving the “iPhone” trademark. Under the agreement, both companies are free to use the “iPhone” trademark on their products throughout the world. Both companies acknowledge the trademark ownership rights that have been granted, and each side will dismiss any pending actions regarding the trademark. In addition, Cisco and Apple will explore opportunities for interoperability in the areas of security, and consumer and enterprise communications. Other terms of the agreement are confidential.

I’m just a coder who likes to schmooze (or a schmoozer who likes to code, take your pick), so I’m going to leave it to suitier minds than mind to think about any of the business implications of the deal. I suppose that there’s a business analogue to wrestling fans who would’ve loved to have seen an epic WWE-style corporate smackdown; these people will be sorely disappointed.

PC World’s Techlog had the same thought I did: What were Apple’s “Plan B” names for the phone in case Cisco was able to prevent them from using the iPhone name? My money would’ve been on “Apple Phone”, which as others have said, has a certain symmetry with another product name of theirs, Apple TV.

There still remains a possible trademark dispute in Canada, where Comwave, a telecom company, have been using the iPhone brand for its VOIP services. I’d like to see them come to an agreement with Apple like the one with Cisco, even if only so that I could use an iPhone to call someone on their iPhone connected to iPhone.

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James Gosling to be Given the Order of Canada

by Joey deVilla on February 21, 2007

James Gosling.

We here at Global Nerdy would like to congratulate Canada’s own Global Nerd, Java creator James Gosling, on his being named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. Here’s a CBC News article covering Gosling’s award, and for you non-Canadians out there, here’s a quick explanation of the Order of Canada.

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When Fedora Defections Meet Online Jerks

by Joey deVilla on February 21, 2007

It’s a rare thing to have two completely unrelated blog articles that appear on the same day suddenly intersect on the same day, but that’s just what happened.

The first blog article is Eric S. Raymond Ditches Red Hat for Ubuntu, Might Keep Red Shirt, which covers ESR’s dumping Red Hat/Fedora as his Linux distro of choice for Ubuntu.

The other blog article is the one immediately after it: The GIFT Theory Explains Why People Are Such Jerks Online. In that article, I pointed to a TechDirt article on online jerks and a Penny Arcade comic on the same topic.

The hairs on the back of your neck must already be rising — you’re probably beginning to form an idea of how these two stories intersect. I’ll show you, by way of this response by Alan Cox on the Fedora developers’ mailing list to Eric S. Raymond’s open letter:

On Wed, Feb 21, 2007 at 03:03:50AM -0500, Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> * Failure to address the problem of proprietary multimedia formats
> with any attitude other than blank denial.

That would be because we believe in Free Software and doing
the right thing (a practice you appear to have given up on).
Maybe it is time the term “open source” also did the
decent thing and died out with you.

> I’m not expecting Ubuntu to be perfect, but I am now certain it will
> be enough better to compensate me for the fact that I need to learn
> a new set of administration tools.

I’m sure they will be delighted to have you
Alan

This isn’t the behaviour of the Alan Cox I know from a brief meeting at a LinuxWorld or from his typically friendly and helpful mailing list postings; it’s the lashing out of a petulant adolescent showing the kind of behaviour that drove me away from Slashdot and Digg. I hope he rejoins the rest of the grown-ups and posts an apology soon.

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The GIFT Theory Explains Why People Are Such Jerks Online

by Joey deVilla on February 21, 2007

One of the Mikes (there are three) at Techdirt spills a lot of ink (or, more accurately, electrons) in a quick piece titled Why People Are Such Jerks Online. There’s a more succinct version of what he wrote in this old Penny Arcade webcomic from March 2004:

Penny Arcade’s “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory”.

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Gentle readers, before I begin, let me show you the scariest photo I’ve seen all month. I found it while doing an image search for Eric S. Raymond for a photo to go along with this article:

Eric S. Raymond kissing a comely young woman in a red shirt.

I’ll give you a moment to wipe the coffee off your screen before continuing.

Better now? Good.

Anyhow: Open Source thought leader (and author of many books and articles, including The Cathedral and the Bazaar and Sex Tips for Geeks) and gun nut firearms enthusiast Eric S. Raymond has publicly given up on the Fedora Linux distribution after thirteen years of being a Red Hat, and later, Fedora supporter. His reasons:

Over the last five years, I’ve watched Red Hat/Fedora throw away what was at one time a near-unassailable lead in technical prowess, market share and community prestige. The blunders have been legion on both technical and political levels. They have included, but were not limited to:

  • Chronic governance problems.
  • Persistent failure to maintain key repositories in a sane, consistent state from which upgrades might actually be possible.
  • A murky, poorly-documented, over-complex submission process.
  • Allowing RPM development to drift and stagnate — then adding another layer of complexity, bugs, and wretched performance with yum.
  • Effectively abandoning the struggle for desktop market share.
  • Failure to address the problem of proprietary multimedia formats with any attitude other than blank denial.

In retrospect, I should probably have cut my losses years ago. But I had so much history with Red-Hat/Fedora, and had invested so much effort in trying to fix the problems, that it was hard to even imagine breaking away.

If I thought the state of Fedora were actually improving, I might hang in there. But it isn’t. I’ve been on the fedora-devel list for years, and the trend is clear. The culture of the project’s core group has become steadily more unhealthy, more inward-looking, more insistent on narrow “free software” ideological purity, and more disconnected from the technical and evangelical challenges that must be met to make Linux a world-changing success that liberates a majority of computer users.

I’ve always preferred Raymond’s “Open Source” pragmatism over the ideological purity of the “Stalliban” (my pet name for the more stringent ideologues at the Free Software Foundation).

I myself was a Red Hat user back around 2000, when the cooler nerds were already beginning to don “Fuck Red Hat” stickers, but moved to Mandrake and then Ubuntu long ago for about the same reasons as Raymond: because I didn’t want to go through all the “yak-shaving” that other distributions like Debian, and now Red Hat require. My current desktop Linux distro, Ubuntu (I’m using the “Dapper Drake”; Raymond’s using the newer “Edgy Eft” version), is considerably easier to install, maintain, update and find help for than any other distro — so much easier that in terms of my own usage, it’s vying for the number 2 spot against Windows (OS X remains the OS I use the most).

I see that Raymond had the same surprisingly pleasant installation experience as I did:

This afternoon, I installed Edgy Eft on my main development machine — from one CD, not five. In less than three hours’ work I was able to recreate the key features of my day-to-day toolkit. The after-installation mass upgrade to current packages, always a frightening prospect under Fedora, went off without a hitch.

Welcome to club Ubuntu, Eric! Hope you like it as much as I do.

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