Monthly Archives: June 2007

Workaround for problems configuring LeadTek Winfast TV2000 tuner for KdeTv on OpenSUSE 10.2 and Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn

Postscript 20 August 2007:

I have recently discovered that the problems mentioned below were due to a faulty motherboard, not to any problems with SUSE or Ubuntu. When I replaced that board I had no problems configuring kdetv on Suse (9.3,10.1) or Ubuntu (7.04 Feisty Fawn desktop).

I’ve used a LeadTek Winfast TV2000 Tuner board to watch tv using the KDE package kdetv on my home desktop using SUSE 9.3 and later SUSE 10.1 for the last few years.

I recently upgraded from SUSE 10.1 to OpenSUSE 10.2 and also installed Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn on the same machine. The Leadtek didn’t work on either using kdetv, or using xawtv or tvtime on Ubuntu. I eventually got it to work on both, and I’m writing this to share what I learned.

I used Google as my guide and found that others have run into this problem, and that there was no consensus answer. At the extreme it was suggested you needed to build a custom kernel.

If you are in the U.S. then you want to enter the input source as “television” and not “composite” and the signal type as “NTSC.”

While playing with the options to configure Kdetv I heard some audio though I didn’t see any video, suggesting the chip was working. Though all the programs I tried do auto-scan to detect available channels, none had worked, but I recalled that Kdetv lets you manually edit the channel settings. So I booted up SUSE 9.3 and wrote down the configuration information for a couple of channels.

I then found that if I manually configured Kdetv on OpenSUSE 10.2 using these settings then it worked. This also worked for Kdetv on Ubuntu. The audio didn’t work on Ubuntu but I learned this is a known problem.

Manual configuration such as this is not a clean solution, but at least now I can watch the Amazing Mets using either Open SUSE or Ubuntu.

links for 2007-06-28

links for 2007-06-27

links for 2007-06-26

links for 2007-06-25

Plugging Plugins: On the Ignorance of Crowds

This is the first of an occasional series of essays on the notion of software Plugins, also known as extensions. Plugins are a very powerful programming model, as I will try to demonstrate. Hence the title “Plugging Plugins.”

I first thought of this a few months back after hearing a talk by my colleague Sean Dague on the problems of starting an open-source project, during which he mentioned that using a plugin architecture made a project more accessible and so lowered the barrier to entry in attracting new developers. Expanding on that should have been the first of these essays, but I recently came across an article by Nicholas Carr that prompted me to write this post to kick things off.

Carr recentlywrote an essay The Ignorance of Crowds that begins by noting this is the tenth anniversay of Eric Raymond’s seminal essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and goes on to argue that the “bazaar” approach of peer production, especially as it applies to open-source software, is limited and that successful projects rely on the “cathedral” approach of a small tightly-coupled team.

Carr’s essay is well worth a read. The concluding paragraphs summarize his doubts about the power of the bazaar approach:

But if peer production is a good way to mine the raw material for innovation, it doesn’t seem well suited to shaping that material into a final product. That’s a task that is still best done in the closed quarters of a cathedral, where a relatively small and formally organized group of talented professionals can collaborate closely in perfecting the fit and finish of a product. Involving a crowd in this work won’t speed it up; it will just bring delays and confusion.

The open source model is also unlikely to produce the original ideas that inspire and guide the greatest innovation efforts. That remains the realm of the individual. Raymond was clear on that point when, toward the end of his paper, he examined some of the “necessary preconditions” for the bazaar model of production. “It’s fairly clear,” he wrote, “that one cannot code from the ground up in bazaar style. One can test, debug and improve in bazaar style, but it would be very hard to originate a project in bazaar mode.” In a recent e-mail to me, he was even blunter. “The individual wizard,” he wrote, “is where successful bazaar projects generally start.”

Matt Asay, a software executive with long experience in the open source movement, agrees. “All open source projects — without exception — are started by one or two people and…have a core development group of fewer than 15 developers,” he says. “The most you can hope for [from the broader set of contributors] is bug fixes.” Asay warns that trying to expand the core decision-making group to include more of the “community” can backfire, as the resulting decision-by-committee approach tends to produce “stale, conservative code.” In other words, keep the bazaar out of the cathedral.

So if you’re looking to bolster your company’s creativity, you should by all means look for opportunities to harness the power of the crowd. Just don’t expect the masses to take the place of the lone wizard or the band of mages. The greatest breakthroughs will always begin, to quote Eric Raymond once more, with “one good idea in one person’s head,” and the greatest products will always reach perfection through the concerted efforts of a highly skilled team.

Note in particular Carr’s statement that “Just don’t expect the masses to take the place of the lone wizard or the band of mages” and Matt Asay’s comment that “The most that you hope for from a broader set of contributors is bug fixes.”

Though it is certainly true that all open-source projects begin as the work of a small group, it does not follow successful projects must therefore use the cathedral approach. You don’t need to rely on Carr’s “mages” or magicians. You can use the magic of plugins.

A plugin architecture lets you move beyond a reliance on a small team to coordinate all the work. Yes, you need a small team to define the core piece of the software, but if you have a plugin architecture then others can use it without having to coordinate their work with that small core team. They can extend the software on their own, constrained only by their imagination and programming skills.

Consider for example Eclipse and WordPress.

Eclipse started as an IBM-intiated effort to build an ” open development platform comprised of extensible frameworks, tools and runtimes for building, deploying and managing software across the lifecycle.” Plugins are fundamental to the Eclipse architecture, and I think are key to the subsequent success of the project, which has evolved to an independent organization that is the keystone of an ecosystem consisting of scores of companies and hundreds (thousands?) of plugins, most of which are commercial applications built on the open-source base.

WordPress started as a small PHP application for supporting blogging that also supports plugins, and it has grown, thanks in part to the many plugins provided by independent developers, to the point where hosts over a million blogs, and the software is also used to power many other blogs at other sites, as well as to create complete web sites and not just to support blogging.

Plugins support a hybrid model of production, using the cathedral for the core and the bazaar for developing plugins. Plugins allow the creation of groups that can use their own peer-production model independent of the core group, and in so doing can allow a project to scale far beyond what a small group can accomplish.

The model can even be extended to allow scaling of groups of related projects. Consider for example, LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Though it is commonly viewed as a programming model, it can also be viewed as an extended plugin architecture, one that combines the efforts of four separate projects, each maintained by its own core team, to produce a pluggable-architecture base that has been used to create many of the web sites we use every day.

I’ll explore other aspects of plugins in future posts as time permits, so we can plug along together.

The Wayward Word Press: One in a Million

I just visited the site and happened to notice they are now hosting over a million blogs. When I started this blog back in September of 2006 there were over 400,000 blogs, so that in the nine months since they have on average added about 60,000 new blogs per month, which works out to about 2,000 per day, or about 100 per hour, or about one new blog each minute.

This is a remarkable achievement by the WordPress folks. I want to thank them for providing such good service during this period of rapid growth as I haven’t noticed any degradation in service during those months, and also for providing an example of true industrial-strength deployment of open-source software.

Whenever I give a talk on open-source I use Firefox as an example since so many people use it but I suspect few of those who do realize it is open-source software. I’ll have to remember to add WordPress as another example.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this blog is but one of the million-plus blogs hosted at this site competing for your attention.

Competing as Software Goes to Web

Today’s New York Times Business section has an article by John Markoff Competing as Software Goes to Web that begins as follows:

Can two bitter rivals save the desktop operating system?

In the battle between Apple and Microsoft, Bertrand Serlet and Steven Sinofsky are the field generals in charge of competing efforts to ensure that the PC’s basic software stays relevant in an increasingly Web-centered world.

The article uses a common motif in business articles, framing an issue as a battle between one company and another with representatives of each company featured to make it more personal.

What makes the article particularly interesting — and at times amusing — is to read it with open-source and Linux in mind. The special attraction is what is left unsaid, as neither Linux nor open-source is mentioned in the article. For example, the article continues:

The two men are marshaling their software engineers for the next encounter, sometime in 2009, when a new generation of Macintosh and Windows operating systems is due. Their challenge will be to avoid refighting the last war — and to prevent finding themselves outflanked by new competitors.

Left unsaid is the new competitor on the flank — Linux and open-source.


Many technologists contend that the increasingly ponderous PC-bound operating systems that currently power 750 million computers, products like Microsoft’s Windows Vista and Apple’s soon-to-be-released Mac OS X Leopard, will fade in importance.

Ponderous? Left unsaid is that while Vista and Leopard may be ponderous, Linux is much less so. You can run it on hardware that can’t boot either of the above operating systems.

In this view, software will be a modular collection of Web-based services — accessible by an array of hand-held consumer devices and computers — and will be designed by companies like Google and Yahoo and quick-moving start-ups.

“The center of gravity and the center of innovation has moved to the Web, where it used to be the PC desktop,” said Nova Spivack, chief executive and founder of Radar Networks, which is developing a Web service for storing and organizing information.

Faced with that changing dynamic, Apple and Microsoft are expected to develop operating systems that will increasingly reflect the influence of the Web. And if their valuable turf can be preserved, it will largely reflect the work of Mr. Serlet and Mr. Sinofsky, veteran software engineers with similar challenges but contrasting management styles.

Note the emphasis on the future as they produce systems “that will increasingly reflect the influence of the Web”. Left unsaid is that there already exists such a system, Linux. Linux is the the operating system used to build much of the modern web.

A developer who has worked for both Microsoft and Apple is quoted comparing the different styles:

One software developer who has worked at both companies — and asked not to be identified because he still consults for Microsoft — compared the two men’s approaches to the difference between martial marching band music and jazz.

Mr. Sinofsky’s approach, he said, is meticulously planned out from the beginning, with a tight focus on meeting deadlines — a crucial objective after the delay-plagued Vista project — but with little room for flexibility. In contrast, the atmosphere inside Apple’s software engineering ranks has been much more improvisational.

“Tight focus on meeting deadlines” and “little room for flexibility.” Left unsaid is that while perhaps that approach works for Microsoft it is the exact opposite of the open-source approach.

We learn next these guys are smart:

Both men are the best of a technical elite. “Bertrand is wicked smart,” said Dan’l Lewin, a Microsoft corporate vice president who worked with Mr. Serlet at Next. “He was one of the bright lights.”

Mr. Lewin now works with Mr. Sinofsky, who he said had brought needed discipline to the company’s largest development project. “His ability is in understanding the end-to-end process and architecture and knowing every nook — it’s amazing,” Mr. Lewin said.

“Knowing every nook?” Hello Linus, hello Andrew, hello Ted and all the other core Linux developers. Left unsaid is that they’re amazing too.

There are risks:

The potential risk in the Microsoft approach, he said, is that “they’re like the test pilots who won’t pull up when they see the tarmac.”

Left unsaid is that they also need to watch out for the tar pit that is their development process and the new tar-ball’s produced every day by the open-source community.

They are using a closed process:

Now in charge of the company’s most important development project, Mr. Sinofsky has proved to be far more secretive than his predecessor, Jim Allchin, who retired from Microsoft this year. Shortly after the consumer release of Vista in January, the company took the unusual step of issuing a statement saying that it had nothing to say about its plans for future operating systems.

Left unsaid is that secrecy is anathema to open-source. You can read every day all anyone has to say about Linux by reading all the open mail lists.

There is a plan however:

Microsoft is trying again to reconcile the PC operating system with the Internet. It calls the new strategy Windows Live, an effort to leverage its desktop monopoly onto the Web.

“Reconcile the operating system with the Internet?” Left unsaid is that Linux is already very reconciled. Then again, Linux doesn’t have to worry about leveraging a monopoly.

The company’s chief executive, Steven A. Ballmer, refers to the new approach as “integrated innovation.” But it is less clear yet whether Mr. Sinofsky will have the agility to respond to what is being called an era of “loosely coupled innovation” — an agility that has been the hallmark of nimble Web services developers.

Small groups of programmers have been using the Internet to introduce services far quicker than the slow-moving operating systems projects have been able to respond.

“The challenge for Steve is to get Windows in that mode,” said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor of management at the Sloan School of Management of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the future, he added, Windows will most likely be broken into “smaller pieces released more frequently or put up as a Web service.”

Small groups, agile development process, small pieces? Left unsaid is how familiar these ideas are to open-source folks. This will indeed be a challenge for Microsoft, though they can read all those open mail lists to get some insight into how to do it.

That will mean that the era of big software releases may have come to an end.

“I think that you won’t think about big new releases in the future,” said John Seely Brown, the former director of the Palo Alto Research Center. “You really want to be able to make lots of incremental improvements in ways that things just get better and better.”

Big new releases in the future? Left unsaid is that this is old news for Linux, as for at least a year or so Linux has evlolved so that production-quality releases come out every few weeks, incremental improvement by incremental improvement.

“It’s a very important, longer-term trend of incremental innovation,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. Software will be “increasingly componentized and offered over the Web.”

Couldn’t agree more.

The article ends with the following:

Still, there are those in the industry who believe that the very nature of software will assure both Mr. Sinofsky and Mr. Serlet comfortable careers for the foreseeable future.

“Software is like the tax code,” said Jean-Louis Gassée, a venture capitalist and a former Apple executive, who in the 1990s developed an operating system called Be. “You add lines, but you never take anything away.”

Left unsaid is that code can be taken away. For example, the UpFRONT column in the February 2007 issue of Linux Journal reports:

The [kernel] systcl call, allowing users to configure kernel parameters at runtime, is likely to go away.

Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton have both expressed the opinion that taking sysctl out would be the right thing to do — Linus because no one uses it and Andrew because it would be a shame to leave a big wad of such useless code in the kernel permanently, if a viable alternative existed. But, in case it really would break too much stuff, Albert Cahalan has volunteered to be the official sysctl maintainer if one is needed.

Linux will continue to compete as software goes to the web — at flank speed.

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