Thursday, December 27, 2007

A year ends; what to do next?

It's the end of a year already. The end of the year is among other things the traditional time for tallying up totals to see what the year brought and looking forward to the fresh year ahead. Now at this point the inner geek in me and probably you too rebels with Why should any arbitrarily chosen point in time be assigned that much significance, huh?, but let's face it, it's one convention we will just have to live with.

The past year included a number of events, some entirely expected like the formal beginning of the end of the corporation once known as Caldera (yes, I know, it's not quite over yet, and I've written about that earlier), some rather surprising like the recent EU brokered patents and specifications deal which apparently means that the Samba team and other interested parties will not only be given access to usable protocol specs, they will even be furnished with a list of what Microsoft believes to be their relevant patents. That at least puts a serious dent in that corporation's patent FUD capability.

Any pundit in the Microsoft/Linux/FOSS "watcher" crowd who left that one out of their year end summary pieces should consider themselves cautioned: You were not paying attention to what could be this year's most important single piece of news in our field.

The general picture of the IT field is rather one of vast crowds of users who simply want to get on with their lives. The typical user is weary of the seventeen and a half times a week ritual Microsoft malware scare, and doesn't really see any benefit in getting a new computer with Vista to slow it down, now that they've finally weeded out or gotten used to all the annoyances of Windows XP and the background noise of unwanted popups and spam.

Rather more depressingly for us in the FOSS field, the typical user wants to just get on with his or her life and is weary, too, of the constantly overhyped "solutions" IT types are peddling. Faced with < insert your favorite product selling point here > , the stock answer now is, "gimme a break, that's what the last one said too".

This goes for almost any selling point, including vastly improved security along any measurable axis, efficient spam killing (including avoidance techniques like greylisting), the lightweight while useable desktop, and during the past year Microsoft even made a credible attempt at taking "open standards" prisoner. There is clearly a lot of work to be done, and we need to find ways to do that work better and present it in ways that actually add to FOSS people's credibility.

That includes, in my view, finding better ways to handle the periodic squabbles over licenses such as the GPL vs BSD shouting matches. It is likely that I will return to that topic in a future column, if and when I find the time to write it properly.

In my own little corner of the world, the publication of The Book of PF, marked here by the arrival of the author copies, marked the end of a long process that consumed rather more time and resources than I had anticipated. Before those copies arrived I had some copies made for OpenCon which were auctioned off for amazing sums that were subsequently donated to the OpenBSD project (see for details). Even though now lists the book as due for release January 11th, I have confirmation that No Starch shipped all preorders before they closed for the holidays, and I know at least one correspondent who got a message from the UK arm of Amazon that his copy was on its way. I'm interested in hearing from you about the book, of course, even reports that it has arrived safely in your mailbox.

Now other opportunities beckon, and I promise that in the coming year I will be writing about developments, confidentiality agreements allowing. If there is anything specific you want me to write about, please let me know.

I give you all my best wishes for the new year.

PS I almost neglected to mention that the PF tutorial (the forerunner of the Book of PF) saw its visitor (unique IP address or host name) number 27,000 for the period we have log data for on December 24th.

Update 2015-04-02: The Book of PF is now in its third edition, and the link in this article has been changed to point to the more recent edition.