Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Play Tetris in your living room with Tetris Link board game

If you look at the earliest computer games, you’ll notice a lot of them were an attempt by programmers to turn an existing card, board or table game into a bunch of ones and zeroes. Pong, for example, is a simplified digital version of Ping Pong: the earliest Unix games were simple text based versions of Chess, Checkers and Go Fish, while even the earliest adventure games like Rogue and Nethack were attempts to recreate pen-and-paper Dungeon and Dragons.

Of course, somewhere along the line, game developers realized they had far more options to exercise their imaginations making games on computers, and now you’d be hard pressed to translate any computer game to a form you could play on a table. 

That’s why I’m fascinated to see this board game version of Tetris called Tetris Link creep out of the latest world Toy Fair. Basically, it takes the Tetronimo concept and applies it to a Connect 4 style gameplay mechanic, in which players must use their tetronimos to link three or more pieces together, while other players try to block them any way they can.

Sure, it’s not really Tetris without being able to wipe out four rows at once by dropping in an I piece, but even so, heck, I’d play this. If only he set played a chiptune rendition of “Korobieniki” as you dropped your pieces.
Read more at Pocket Lint

Monday, January 17, 2011

Xfce 4.8.0 desktop environment released

After nearly two years of work, the Xfce development team has released version 4.8.0 of Xfce. The open source desktop environment for UNIX and Linux platforms aims to be fast and lightweight, while still being visually appealing and adhering to standards.

According to the developers, Xfce 4.8 is their "attempt to update the Xfce code base to all the new desktop frameworks that were introduced in the past few years". The latest stable version supercedes the 4.6.x branch of Xfce and features several advancements, such as browsing remote shares using a variety of protocols (SFTP, SMB, FTP, etc.). Window clutter has also been reduced by merging all file progress dialogues into a single dialogue. 

Improvements to settings dialogues include support for RandR 1.2 in the display configuration dialogue and updates to the manual settings editor. Other changes include the addition of an eject button for removable media, a new 'fuzzy' clock, a new directory menu plugin and improved keyboard layout selection.

A visual tour of the new major visual features in Xfce 4.8 is available on the project's web site – screenshots are also provided.

More details about the latest version of the Xfce desktop environment can be found in the official release announcement and in the change log. Many distributions support Xfce and users can install the updated version by downloading the latest packages. A list of Xfce based Linux distributions can be found on the Xfce distributions page.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

LCA 2011 keynotes: Allman to focus on sendmail

Allman is the father of sendmail, the first mail transport agent for UNIX systems. He will be in Australia later this month as one of the keynote speakers at the forthcoming Australian national Linux conference in Brisbane.

Allman developed the precursor of sendmail, delivermail, in 1981 as an extension to the AT&T Unix code which was available at the University of California in Berkeley. He was studying for a computer science degree.

Sendmail was designed to deliver email over what was then a relatively small ARPANET which had several different smaller networks. Most of these networks had differing headers for email.

Allman's MTA soon became an important part of the Berkeley Software Distribution. It is still widely used on UNIX systems despite being difficult to configure. Alternatives like postfix (written by Wietse Venema), exim (written by Philip Hazel) and qmail (authored by Daniel Bernstein) have gained ground as they are much easier to configure.

But veterans still swear by sendmail. As far as GNU/Linux goes, Slackware, one of the older distributions still uses sendmail as its default MTA though Debian has moved to exim and Red Hat to postfix.

Though Allman, who now works at Sendmail Inc, a company he co-founded in 1998, has also authored software such as syslog (a standard for logging program messages) and several other programs, he is best known for sendmail given its degree of use and the fact that it was the first MTA.

Thus it is not surprising that in his keynote, he will focus on the software that has become synonymous with his name.

"Briefly, my talk is going to explore the architecture of the sendmail MTA from a historical/introspective perspective," Allman told iTWire in an interview. "Like so many other tools, sendmail was originally written as a quick hack to solve an immediate problem; unlike most other tools, it is still around over 30 years later and continues to be one of the major MTAs on the internet."

He said he would first provide an overview of the historic situation. "What were machines like? What already existed in the email world? What was happening that triggered the problem?"

Then would come an examination of design principles and the early days of the evolution of sendmail. "Why did I do it the way I did? How did sendmail change as the world changed?"

Allman then plans to take a somewhat deeper dive into "individual design decisions (as distinct from design principles), including some analysis of whether they were good decisions, bad decisions, or decisions that should have been changed over time."

And to finish, there will be "an overview of what I would do the same, what I would do differently, and what we can learn."

"My hope is that people may be able to take away some knowledge they can apply when architecting a new system," Allman said. "I'm a pragmatist, and a lot of what you read in 'the literature' is disturbingly bogus for actual use in the trenches."

He said that to be honest, there wasn't very much specifically about open source in his keynote.

"The principles I used with sendmail are identical to those I would have used with commercial software - I'm of the school of thought that all software should be written as though it was going to be open sourced, even if it obviously will not, because I think programmers do a better job if they think that others will be evaluating their source code. But that's about as far as it goes."

The LCA 2011 will be held at the Queensland University of Technology from Januarty 24 to January 29.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Does CPTN Spell the End for Open Source Software?

It's not often that the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and EMC jump in to bed together, so when they do, you have to ask yourself what on earth they are up to.

Late last year Attachmate announced its plans to acquire Novell and that as part of the deal it will sell a whole bucket-load of patents (882, to be precise) to a mysterious outfit called CPTN Holdings for around $450 million. All that was known at the time was that Microsoft was behind CPTN, and Novell would continue to own the rights to UNIX.

What we've subsequently learned, thanks to those nice people at the Bundeskartellamt, Germany's national competition regulator, is that Apple, Oracle and EMC are also involved in CPTN.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI), a non-profit corporation that educates about and advocates for the benefits of open source, is so concerned about this unholy alliance that it has asked the Germans to investigate the transaction. Why the Germans? Perhaps because they have a record of imposing multi-million Euro fines on Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) for anti-competitive behavior in the past, or maybe because the Bundeskartellamt was open to receiving comments about the transaction from the public.

Among the points the OSI has raised with the Bundeskartellamt are that:

* CPTN represents a serious threat to the growing use of open source software because its founders and leaders have a long history of opposing and misrepresenting the value of open source software.
* CPTN principals have substantial market power in operating systems (Microsoft, Apple and Oracle), middleware (Microsoft and Oracle), and virtualization and cloud computing (Microsoft, Oracle and EMC). Open source is a significant competitive threat in operating systems (Linux and Android), middleware (Apache and JBoss), and virtualization and cloud (KVM and Xen hypervisors).
* CPTN creates a cover to launch patent attacks against open source while creating for each principal a measure of plausible deniability that the patent attack was not their idea.
* The patents CPTN bought could be sold to non-practicing entities (NPEs), which could then create havoc for open source software without risking the adverse reaction of the market if Microsoft or one of the other three were to sue directly

Now let's not forget that as yet no one outside of Novell and CPTN knows exactly which patents make up the 882. What we do know is that they don't include anything to do with direct ownership of UNIX. We can also speculate that they are connected with networking, virtualization and data center technologies -- three areas in which Novell has been heavily involved. Bear in mind the words of Gregory House, however: "The problem with speculation is it makes a speck out of you and some guy named Lation."

So going back to the original question of what on earth Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and EMC could be up to, the OSI's worry is that they plan to hide behind CPTN while launching patent attacks against open source software directly, or through third parties to which CPTN sells patents. The reason OSI believes the four may do this is that they have a history of open source software, and because open source software poses a threat to them in the fields of operating systems, middleware, and virtualization and cloud.

I for one don't buy that for a moment. Open source software certainly competes with products these four companies sell, but the point that OSI's argument ignores is that these companies also compete with each other -- ferociously at times. The idea that Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and EMC all have their backs to the wall, trapped together like dogs awaiting the final coup de grace from the open source community, and their only hope of salvation is to band together to become patent trolls, is, frankly, rather preposterous. Open source software is great, but it's not that great, and Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and EMC are far from being technology dinosaurs with nothing but their patent portfolios to profit from.
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What other possibilities are there then? Maybe Microsoft wanted to gets it hands on some of the patents, but it knew that attempting to buy them alone would be impossible for anti-trust reasons, so it came to "an arrangement" with the other three? Possibly.

Perhaps the four bought them out of the kindness of their hearts, to license for a nominal fee to all and sundry for the benefit of the community as a whole? Seems unlikely.

Or, perhaps all four companies wanted to avoid a bidding war and agreed to share ownership of them to guarantee access to the technologies they represent at a low price. John Paczkowski over at All Things Digital reckons an insider at one of the big four confirmed just that. "We get to buy in at a cheap price and get a license to a very valuable portfolio. It's cheap defensive insurance," the unnamed individual told him.

It's certainly plausible: a defensive move that keeps the playing field even. Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and EMC working together in this way is nothing the OSI should be worked up about. Probably.