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[24.11.03] negatives, positives and landscapes
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[08.10.03] a small whatsnew
[26.09.03] rainy news
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21 Mar 2003 :: Two days ago I was finishing a new article for the PC Magazine Romania called "15 minute de faima pentru fiecare" (15 minutes of fame for everyone). It says about blogs (web logs, personal on-line diaries)... [ more.. ]

18 Sep 2001 :: There were no news from me after I went to Romania. Well, I am ok and it was because I was settling here, starting with my new job, etc. I rented a 3 rooms appartment in the center of the city. I even can see the Moldovan king (knyaz? boyar?) palace from my window. I am also full of new impressions... [ more.. ]

17 Apr 2001 :: Today new versions both of motor and centericq were released. Details are on the programs' homepages... [ more.. ]

[ 26th Sep 2003 ] rainy news | 2 comments | leave a comment |

It's been raining outside during five days in a raw. Sometimes I don't believe that only about a month ago it was summer, beatiful hot weather, Crimea, mountains and the Black sea. I don't believe it especially when looking outside at the wet melancholic Bucharest. Probably that's why I don't write too much recently. Frankly speaking, the weather is conductive to sleeping profoundly during whole the day. Or maybe because of the recent changes in my life and the new job the inspiration is still looking for a place for itself in the new conditions. Outside it's drizzling unpleasantly, but also pacifying. So it's quite possible to write something not so great as a report about Crimea. Fortunatelly, there are enough news.

Dial-up Cards

Last week I went to the office of the internet provider called Astral Telecom. The office is situated exactly on the other side of the road from the block I live in. It seemed logic to me that they are involved into providing of internet through TV-cable in my neighbourhood. I asked them about packages, found out the installation usually takes about 20 days, because recently they have many new customers, and they're out of real IP addresses. The offer they have is broken up into the following options: $19/mo costs a minimal package with 600mb traffic included into the fee and 1 cent for each overdrawn megabyte. Unlimited costs $29, and for $24 it's possible to get the package named "Hobby" which allows unlimited access to the Net only during evenings and week-ends. I decided not to order anything right away, for it would be better if the appartment owner submits the application.

Actually, Astral is a serious player on the market. It's probably the biggest operator of the cable television and provider of internet through TV-cable in Romania. About half a year ago I read an article in PC Magazine Romania, in which they reported that they covered all the cities in the East of the country with their network. The business started in 1992 in the city of Cluj-Napoca where they started erecting cables. At least that's how their ad says. I watched recent actions of theirs here myself. During these two years Astral has been buying local ISPs in various locations. Like, there was a provider called DNT in Iasi, and in Bucharest kappa. Both joined Astral.

Since quite a while I heard about dial-up access cards. I even saw some of them in action. That's why using the occasion, in the Astral office, which, by the way, not so long ago belonged to kappa, asked about such a service. Really, it wasn't that funny to stay at home not having any possibility to read e-mail, develop various personal projects or update the site. For two hundred thousands lei and something ($5) they gave me a red-coloured packet on which there were some ads, logotypes and web addresses drawn. 30 hours of internet. Instructions were inside, as well as the PIN-code.

Just after I started reading the process simplicity surprised me. Like, first one should configure his modem, then create a connection with the login "card" and password "astral". Right after these words I got courious who would ask me the card PIN code and how their system would make difference between me and other uers. Would it be some new PPP protocol extension from M$ I haven't yet heard about? Phoning went just fine, so I connected quickly. DNS was working, but impossible to connect or ping any host. So I remembered I saw the card.ro address somewhere, thus I opened browser and navigated there. Indeed, on the front page they ask the card's PIN. So I introduced it. Afther that, a message "you can register a user name" appeared. It was a real surprise to find out that the "konst" account wasn't used by anyone. I even thought a kind of a web interface dealt with all the stuff. Like, you enter the login/password pair every time you dial them, and their firewall automatically changes its rules. But even after logging in I couldn't access any host. So I tried here and there, and then called the technical support (fortunatelly there were phone numbers given). It appeared that after registration of an account one should use his username and password for the PPP connection, i.e. replace the card/astral pair with his new one, and then redial. Having registered a login name once, it shouldn't be changed anymore. With the help of the same web interface another cards can be used in order to add some money to the account.

So it's a nice service, good connection, the speed also wasn't bad. The technical service was nice too. But here is the question: for what kind of advanced user the instruction was written? It said how to configure of modem in Windows 95/98/XP and how to create a connection, but didn't have a word about the site and the login/password pair application. Probably I must learn more about the Net, but without phoning the technical service it was almost impossible to get a clue. Also, such an instruction is one of the rare cases when an English translation would highly suitable. You can see inscriptions in this language in many places here, but hey, let's be frank: they're mostly used just to fool foreigners who don't know real prices on appartment rent, and stuff. As to astral card, being a service dedicated for the general public, foreigners who come for short periods of time would surely find it useful. Especially those of them who don't really feel need in a permanent connection, because they don't stay much. Sometimes it's really important that subscription doesn't require too much papers and a contract. Nevertheless, the quality of astral card as of a service is quite decent. It's never dropped on its own, phoning always worked from the first time, no major slowdowns. So I am happy with it.

GNU and the Reasons

A former colleague of mine who we used to work together at the company in Iasi, Mihai Bazon, wrote an interesting article on his web site recently. It says about the disappointment he's been feeling lately. Particulary, he doesn't like the fact that the sources of his JavaScript controls, among which you can find the famous calendar, are regularry sold by some companies as a part of their products. Mishoo like the author doesn't make a penny out of it. But when he tried to put a "donate" button on his products' pages, he didn't get anything. Noone of numerous users who come to his web site in order to download the recent versions from time to time, noone didn't bother to drop at least 10 dead presidents just to express appreciation.

The conclusion Mishoo ended up with was the following. Any free project which doesn't attract sponsors or attract a developers community, dies sooner or later. That's why in order for the project to live, one should make it paid, so that he has some reasons to continue the development. In Mishoo's situation it's really understandable. But if we want to characterize whole the open source and free software movement, we should try to cast a glance round all the possible reasons and projects. One situation is when a geek develops something on his own at home and distributes his product for free. In this case every web site hit, every feedback and every dollar in donations will have a great value, because they represent his main reasons. Now let us think about a major project, like Apache, which started somewhere in a garage too, but now it's developed by people and companies who modify or add features they need theirselves. Companies invest money in development and use it themselves. They also distribute their improvements to the code, according to the license. And everyone is happy.

The two examples given above are just two extremes. Between them there is a lot of software people develop just on their leisure. Usually it happens in the following way. Someone felt a need which none of already existing programs couldn't satisfy. He thought a little, and then decided to write it for his own needs. Then he released the sources under GPL and still supports the project. Firstly, the main reason is that he still uses it. And secondly, let's not forget about such a major factor as name, which can be earned developing popular free software. Having a good name, one can receive some interesting job offers. And yes, job means money. So there is an indirect connection between free software and pure money-related reasons. Obviously, there are no direct connection between the two things. Like Mishoo is not getting paid for his calendar, neither I am for centericq, motor, orpheus, groan and stuff, which do get included into various Linux distribuions which are sold after all (in packages, with books and stuff, but they earn money). Sure, I need to specify, there are no guarantees that someone will ever offer you a good job. That's why the main reasons are still interest and enthusiasm.

Also there are projects like libcurl, which I recently wrote about in PC Magazine. This is wonderful set of network protocol client tools, where we have a source distributed under the MIT license, which allows to use it in commercial projects with closed source. The specific of the project is that one usually uses it not as a separate thing, but applies it to something more specific. Like, at my previous job I used it to implement publishing of images to a server (HTTP POST requests) in a program used to stitch panoramas. The idea is that improving libcurl and sending patches to its developers one doesn't lose anything. Instead, the community that actively uses the library in its own aims, can only profit out of such actions, because doing it they actually help theirselves.

Protocols Strike Back

It looks like an interesting situation has been becoming eminent for one of pieces of software I enjoy writing on my leisure, in order to relax after sometimes not-so-interesting tasks at work, etc. As you can gueses, it's not about the 10 commandments, neither it is a manual for terrorists-kamikadze or something. Not at all. It's about centericq, which does really have all the hope of success to leave without support of the MSN protocol, because recently there've been news from M$. Let me quote something now.

Microsoft Corp. is making changes to its MSN instant messaging (IM) service that will lock out users of third-party software that uses the service as well as users of older versions of Microsoft's own Messenger client, the company said Tuesday.

Users have to upgrade to the latest versions of MSN or Windows Messenger by Oct. 15 or they will no longer be able to log on, Microsoft spokesman Sean Sundwall said. The upgrade is required because of "security issues" with the older versions of the Messenger clients, he said, declining to specify those issues.

Besides those older Messenger clients, the move also affects IM software such as Trillian, Imici and Odigo that allow users to consolidate multiple IM accounts in one client, Sundwall said.

Taken from here.

Besides, announcements about the date when the old protocol is going to be cut off are sent by their server every time you log in. And it caused a real panic and then an emotional discussion with personal offences on the mailing list. The main question is whether Microsoft would sue me if I reverse-engineer the new protocol and continue supporting it in the next versions of the program.

From all of this, it seems like the guys from AOL are not the most evil ones. Remember quite a while ago they forked the protocol into two branches? One of them was intended to be used for their own client and another one for the 3rd party programs respectively. And now it looks like it could had been much worse. As to the situation with MSN, I think to approach it in the following way. First, I'll have to throw it away when the X hour comes. Then take a look at other GPL licensed projects, if they're going to adopt it. The reason is that myself I don't have a major need in MSN, neither I have much time to play around with the new protocol.

Right after MSN, Yahoo! started to hurl almost the same way.

Yahoo! is upgrading to its newest version of Yahoo! Messenger on September 24, 2003. The upgrade is part of an ongoing process to continually enhance the overall quality of the Yahoo! Messenger service for our millions of users. Please download the latest version at http://messenger.yahoo.com

I don't know what exactly these guys want, but I've got a bad feeling. Though there is no getting away. Everyone knows it well, that MSN and Yahoo! are closed protocols, and the comanies that created them can do anything they want with their technology. Thus, take my advice. If you want a reliable and predictable instant messaging solution for your needs for Linux and other platforms, use Jabber, guys.

Linux Magazin

And a little bit more about Linux. Several days on a newsstand in the street I suddenly came across a magazine called "Linux Magazin". Just out of couriosity I decided to buy it. The price is 75.000 lei ($2). The fact that the Romanian edition appeared recenlt meant the main office in Germany got interested in the local audience. So I though if the magazine is published in Romania, there must be many names I know among the authors. But no such luck. I still don't know whether it's the publishing politics or there are not enough Romanian authors around, but all the articles in the magazine were just translations from German and English. Among pieces which were definitely written in this country, there were only the editorial and ads. Nevertheless, it was an interesting reading. Also it's nice to watch the computers and Linux related press grow. Here you can find the magazine's main web site, and here is the link to their local edition.



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