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.
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
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
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
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.
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.