Tag Archives: open source

Beware of CNET downloads

QualityControl_rejected2CNET (download.cnet.com) stores many useful open-source and shareware programs on its servers. In the past I’d have recommended that you download them from CNET. Not any longer. Now CNET attempts to push browser toolbars, games, and adware on to your computer. Recently I thought that I’d opted out of their crapware, yet when the download was done, they’d still pushed this garbage unto my PC. I give them two big thumbs down.

I found this in the CNET Wikipedia entry:

Some software applications freely downloadable from the Internet are also offered for download by CNET. Some of these “CNET versions” are actually wrapped inside other applications that install other pieces of software such as adware commonly referred to as PUP.CNET adware. In most instances the user has to specifically opt out, and the opt-out option is not clearly or immediately visible. Most anti-malware software programs identify these wraps as potentially harmful and routinely identify them for removal or quarantine.

I recommend that you steer clear of CNET downloads.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Is Microsoft about to admit that Windows 8 has flopped?

Reports have leaked from Microsoft that its upcoming Windows 8.1 release will revert to a classic Windows Start button (a Start button only, not a Start menu) — at least on PCs. I don’t know how it will behave on tablets with touch screens.

windows8-logo-175wMicrosoft has claimed that they ship twenty million copies of Windows 8 each month, yet PC sales fell 14 percent last quarter. Some observers claim that the unpopularity of Windows 8 is at least partially responsible for the downturn. The growth in mobile device sales and a weak global economy have eaten into PC sales, as well.

Windows 8 Start screen
Windows 8 Start screen
According to leaks, Windows 8.1, expected to be revealed at the end of June, will no longer boot to the “modern” (né “Metro”) interface and its “Start screen”, but instead it will boot to the familiar Windows desktop interface. In the meantime, if you’d like to make your Windows 8 computer work like Windows 7, give Classic Shell a try. (It’s open source and available for free.)

April 28 update: An article titled The Death of the PC Has Not Been Exaggerated by Mark Rogowsky appeared in Forbes. He compares PCs to dinosaurs:

The PC, in fact, is probably a lot like the dinosaurs of 66 million years ago. Yes, a meteor or comet was the death blow. But the giant lizards were already in trouble when the impact came.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Most people mourn Steve Jobs. Some people don’t.

Steve Jobs holding a MacBook Air
(at MacWorld Conference & Expo 2008 – Moscone Center – San Francisco)
photo: Matthew Yohe
Not everyone agreed with Steve about the proprietary nature of Apple products.


midst the outpouring of grief that’s followed the death of Steve Jobs, I was surprised to read that Richard Stallman, the champion of open source software, wrote, “I’m glad he’s gone.”

Read ZDNet article Free software founder, Richard M. Stallman is glad Jobs is gone, written by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

Richard Stallman has always been outspoken, but this is unseemly. He added, “I didn’t say that I’m glad that he’s dead. I’m glad that he’s gone.”

Who’s Richard Stallman?

He’s a brilliant programmer who loudly advocates open-source software. He might describe himself as a libertarian or an anarchist. We owe a lot to him. He created the concept of Free software, and coined the term “copyleft” to describe its licensing terms.

Anyone who uses Linux is using software that was written by Mr. Stallman. Annoyed by A.T.&T.’s license for UNIX, in 1984 he undertook the creation of his own UNIX-like operating system, which he named “GNU”. He created all of the UNIX-like utilities, but before he completed the kernel, Linus Torvald’s Linux appeared. Stallman’s open-source GNU was merged with Torvald’s open-source Linux. We call it Linux, but its proper name is GNU/Linux.

Richard Stallman
artwork: h2g2bob (David Batley)

Why Stallman’s opinion matters

Over the years Mr. Stallman has decried most commercial software, not just Apple’s. He has a major point: if it weren’t for Stallman’s GNU Project, Linus Torvalds’ Linux, and the thousands and thousands of other open-source developers, we’d be paying a “Microsoft tax” on our GPSs, Android phones, controllers of all sorts, most of the Internet’s web servers, etc. In a very real sense, the open-source concept and Mr. Stallman’s Free Software Foundation have kept money in our pockets, rather than giving it to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other software magnates. For this, I’m grateful.

I support the open-source idea, and benefit by using open-source software, but I think that Mr. Stallman could be more considerate of Steve’s friends and family.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Create diagrams like a pro

drawing by Russ Bellew. small network
Small Computer Network drawn by Dia
With Dia, make pictures worth a million words, without spending a penny.


My tech proposals make dull reading. They lack something: a simple graphic that describes my plan. I’m familiar with Visio (I used it before Microsoft bought it), but it’s fairly expensive.

About screen for the Diaw that I use

I recently tried a free Visio-like program named Dia, and it’s exactly what I needed! You can download it gratis from http://dia-installer.de/” target=”_blank”. It’s developed by live.gnome.org/Dia. It’s small and is available for use on Windows, GNU/Linux, and Mac platforms.

My immediate needs are for diagramming of computer networks, but Dia includes symbols for flowcharts, civil, chemical, and electrical engineering, et al as well. Additional shapes (CMOS, Building Site, Living Systems, etc.) are available at http://dia-installer.de/shapes/index.html.en.

Dia is super-easy to learn. Without reading any instructions, I was able to begin drawing diagrams almost immediately.

Dia (pronounced “dee-a”) was originally created by Alexander Larsson and is now produced by a team of dozens of programmers and tech writers who’ve donated their work. It’s licensed under the GNU General Public License, which means that all source code is available. Versions for MS-Windows and GNU/Linux are available.

I salute Alexander Larsson and the entire Dia team. They’ve created a very useful tool. Try it. You’ll like it.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

I’m happy with FreeOCR

Here’s a free program that can save hours of typing.


I recently needed to convert text from a PDF file to ASCII text for pasting into an HTML document. I found that a Windows freeware program, FreeOCR, did exactly what I needed.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition) programs have always been clunky. For many years OmniPage was the benchmark OCR program, but it’s large, expensive, and consumes mass quantities of CPU cycles and memory. I was delighted to learn that FreeOCR loads quickly and has an interface that’s easy to learn. It can read PDF files directly, or accept input from Windows’ clipboard. It can also read JPG and other image files or accept input from a TWAIN-compliant document scanner. My tests with a network attached HP scanner went perfectly.

Read user reviews of FreeOCR and download it from CNET’s site: http://download.cnet.com/FreeOCR/.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Facebook introduces “open data center”.

Facebook opens its data center design to encourage low cost copycats.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, noting that he developed Facebook’s software by using open-source software, has published Facebook’s newest data center design so that it can be copied by others. This new data center will open next month in rural Prineville, Orgeon.

MIT reports on the 147,000 square foot open design in two April 7 articles: Inside Facebook’s Not-So-Secret New Data Center and Facebook Opens Up Its Hardware Secrets.

It sounds like an innovative design. They run 3-phase 480/277 Volt electrical power directly to each server, to reduce step-down transformer losses. (This is very unconventional: I’ve never heard of it being done before.) They claim that each server’s power supply has an efficiency of 94%! They cool the servers by using prevailing winds and evaporative water cooling. (This is reminiscent of the whole-house coolers seen in relatively low-humidity Kansas.)

They use a power line reactor to condition incoming power and correct power factor. (This will lower utility costs.) Apparently there’s a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) using 48 VDC batteries, which are much better than 12 VDC batteries for each row of server racks. Lighting is provided by LEDs that are supplied by power over Ethernet. (I want to see this!)

Read about the ground-up data center design and construction in this Facebook engineering note. Be sure to watch the video. This is a startling statement: “The result is that our Prineville data center uses 38 percent less energy to do the same work as Facebook’s existing facilities, while costing 24 percent less.” This summarizes why opening your designs makes sense: “opening the technology means the community will make advances that we wouldn’t have discovered if we had kept it secret.

I applaud Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook. Microsoft, Google, and other data center owners jealously guard their data center details. (Occasionally, information leaks out. Read What exactly is inside a Google data center?) Mr. Zuckerberg points out that there’s no reason to be so secretive: Why not allow the world to benefit from your data center design innovations?

Share this design

A project to open data center design, opencompute.org, plans to open the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of data centers so that anyone may use those designs. (The site contains Facebook’s design specs in PDF files that may be downloaded.) I think that this is great. Let’s hope that this trend continues throughout the computing hardware AND software realms. I hope that proprietary accounting software will be replaced soon by open-source accounting software. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Facebook’s Open compute servers

Above photos & notations: Lance Albertson

What’s the future for OpenOffice and MySQL?


On April 20, Sun Microsystems agreed to be purchased by Oracle (http://www.sun.com/third-party/global/oracle/).

Oracle is the leader in heavy-duty relational database systems. Sun Microsystems has overseen two popular software products: OpenOffice (an excellent free alternative to Microsoft Office); and MySQL, a relational database with over 6 million installations. Both OpenOffice and MySQL are open source products, meaning that for all practical purposes they are available to users at no cost. In practice, most organizations either purchase support contracts or hire IT staff to provide support. MySQL has won wide acceptance since its creation in 1996. Heavy-hitters Flickr, Facebook, Wikipedia, Google, Nokia, and YouTube are built upon MySQL database engines.


Wither MySQL?
MySQL has steadily grown into a heavy-duty product that poses a potential threat to Oracle. The TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of MySQL is about one-sixteenth of the TCO for Oracle: http://www.mysql.com/tcosavings/  I had feared that Oracle, if allowed by the US Department of Justice to control MySQL, would find a way to kill MySQL.

One of the creators of MySQL, a Finnish programmer named Ulf Michael Widenius (nickname Monty), recently left Sun Microsystems and formed a company called Monty Program AB (http://askmonty.org/). Read Monty’s blog: http://monty-says.blogspot.com/  Monty has also recently formed the Open Database Alliance http://opendatabasealliance.com/

It appears that Monty’s moves — effectively forking the development of MySQL — will pull the rug out from under Oracle’s purchase of MySQL, should the DOJ approve the acquisition of MySQL by Oracle.


Wither OpenOffice?
Release 3.1 of OpenOffice was just published a few weeks ago. I hope that its development continues. There’s no love lost between Oracle’s chairman Larry Ellison and Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates, so my hope is that Mr. Ellison will provide the resources necessary to keep OpenOffice a strong competitor to Microsoft Office.

Both futures look good
The conclusion? If we’re lucky, both OpenOffice and MySQL will continue to thrive, despite Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems.

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