At first glance, the KDE Marble
project might look like a competitor to other 3D mapping applications,
like Google Earth or NASA's World Wind, but it has a very
different focus. It has a similar globe view and the navigation is
familiar, but, unlike the others, it does not rely upon enormous data
sets accessed via the internet; it is, instead, self-contained and fairly
lightweight. The intent is to provide a framework for other applications
to use so they can incorporate geographic information, while the Marble
application is a demonstration and testbed for those ideas.
The project wants to see Marble used by many different applications, both
for input of geographic information and for presenting it. The project
lives under the
KDE Education Project as one of the
applications for Marble is for geographic learning. Many other applications
could use a standard framework for displaying maps of various sorts, from
games, using their own, possibly fictional maps, to GPS and other
Marble does not rely on OpenGL or any hardware support for 3D, in order to
reduce complexity and dependencies, which will serve it well when
porting it to embedded devices. The dataset that comes with the program
weighs in around 9M and provides reasonable, worldwide, detail. The interface
is meant to work like other geographic tools to
provide a "geo-widget" that behaves the way users expect, removing
one barrier to its acceptance.
The project recently released its 0.4 version, which was easily installed
on Fedora 7 using yum. When starting it for the first time, it
goes through a setup process, lasting for 30 seconds or so (depending on
hardware, of course), but after that, startup is very quick. It opens with
a spherical projection view of the earth along the prime meridian allowing
users to grab and rotate the earth in various directions.
The navigation is simple, with zoom and pan buttons in addition to
the "grab and pull" style. One can also pan the view by moving the mouse
to the edges of the display and clicking once the pointer has changed to an
arrow indicating a direction. Left-clicking on the map will give the
coordinates of the location, whereas right-clicking brings up a menu allowing
a few operations to be performed. While not horribly painful, moving
around is a bit jerky, tracking noticeably slower than the mouse pointer
The default theme is the atlas view, which looks much like the name
implies, with colors and relief shading to represent elevation and ocean
depth. Other themes available include a satellite view, using NASA Blue
Marble data providing 500 meter per pixel resolution, as well as an "earth
at night" view showing populated areas by the amount of light they give
off. The information overlaid on the map contains political boundaries,
cities keyed by population, lakes and rivers, notable mountains, and
a latitude/longitude grid, each of which can be disabled as desired.
Many of the map features can be clicked to bring up information about
the location, both from the program data and Wikipedia. The main right-click
option is a distance tool, which measures the distance between the two (or
handles standard GPS .gpx data files, along with support for
Google Earth's KML format. Overall, this release provides a limited subset
of the capabilities eventually envisioned for the tool.
The main thrust of the 0.5 release is to fully integrate the contributions
from three Google Summer of Code (GSoC) students. Improving the KML support,
gpsd support to talk to
to GPS devices, and "flat" projections were completed by the
GSoC participants. They have not been fully integrated into the interface
for 0.4, but will be for the next release.
Longer term plans include adding support for data from
Wikipedia-like project to map streets and roads worldwide. The project also
plans to offer optional OpenGL support to enable hardware acceleration for
applications and users who want it. Better resolution satellite data is
another area that will be addressed by adding Landsat 15m data.
Marble shows a lot of promise, the current release is stable and useful,
though it lacks many features. The key to its success, as a library and
framework as opposed to an application in its own right, is in defining an
API that is flexible enough for most applications. If the project can get
that right, there are lots of ways to use it. Once an API stabilizes,
we can expect to see Marble-enabled applications, hopefully soon.
Comments (8 posted)
Mozilla has made its decision and will be spinning off Thunderbird
into a new organization. Back in August, we covered a discussion about the
future of the Thunderbird project, which was spawned by a series of
postings in the blog of Mitchell Baker, CEO of
Mozilla Corp. At that time, it was recognized that Thunderbird was
suffering from a lack of attention, mostly because of an intense focus on
Firefox. This week, Baker announced
that the results of that discussion were to start a new for-profit company
to nurture Thunderbird.
The new company, as yet unnamed and referred to as "MailCo", will start
with three million dollars in seed money from Mozilla. The intent is to
use that money to hire a small team to foster email and internet
communications through Thunderbird. To that end, they have
hired David Ascher, currently CTO at ActiveState, as the CEO of the new
Ascher also posted a blog entry
about the new organization, providing some insights into the role of
While it will legally be a for-profit company, its purpose will be to serve
the public benefit. This means that while part of my job is to figure out a
long-term sustainability plan for the company, It's more important for me to
make email better than to generate significant profits. If profits happen,
that's fine, but generating profits at the expense of the public benefit is
not. It will be fascinating to figure out what that means in practice.
The biggest job for Ascher and MailCo will be to determine what, exactly,
Thunderbird should be. From the comments on Baker's blog and elsewhere, it
is clear that there is no consensus on what an email client should and
should not do. There are many constituencies; trying to please them all is
likely to please none.
There are lots of questions about integration of email with other internet
services: instant messages, RSS feeds, VoIP, etc. There are also questions
of local vs. remote message storage and web vs. host-based clients. Each
has its advantages and disadvantages along with a vocal set of users. If
MailCo starts moving in a particular direction, to the detriment of
supporting others, they may lose some significant portion of their
While profit may not be a requirement, some kind of potentially
sustainable business model will probably have to be established.
user base. But a decision will have to be made in order to concentrate
their efforts; it will be hard to find the right balance.
While profit may not be a requirement, some kind of potentially
sustainable business model will probably have to be established. It is
hard to imagine that Mozilla will keep pumping money into the company,
though Baker makes it clear that they will consider further investment.
Thunderbird does not have the obvious 'sell eyes to Google' model that
Firefox has so successfully used; it directly competes with Google and
other, similar, ad-supported mail sites.
For various reasons, Thunderbird has never had a large development community in
the way that Firefox or other free software projects do. There is a core
group of developers, presumably strong candidates to be hired on at MailCo,
but in order for the project to succeed, it will need a bigger army of
volunteers. There can be friction between paid developers and volunteers,
especially if the volunteers feel like they aren't being heard. Growing
and working with the
community will be an important part of MailCo's first year or two.
Many folks point to the stagnation of the main competition, Outlook, and liken it to
the situation, several years back, with Firefox and Internet Explorer. There are some
similarities, but there is also one big difference: Exchange. It is
relatively easy for a user to change their desktop applications, even in a
controlled workplace environment, but companies are unlikely to toss
out their Exchange servers anytime soon. Because Microsoft completely
controls the mail client to Exchange server protocol, Thunderbird will have
a hard time being a drop-in replacement, in the way that Firefox is. One
possibility would be
to work with Openchange or similar Exchange
replacement projects to provide an end-to-end solution for the enterprise.
Obviously there are some challenges ahead, for email clients in general
and for Thunderbird in particular, but there is reason for optimism as
well. Many did not expect Firefox to achieve the level of adoption that it
has – it has made remarkable inroads against an entrenched competitor
– and many of the same folks are behind the effort to give
Thunderbird a push. Though it may seem like Mozilla is
kicking Thunderbird out of the nest, they are actually giving it some
resources so that it has a chance to fly. It certainly will not suffer under an
organization devoted solely to its development.
Comments (10 posted)
A couple of weeks ago, LWN examined the dispute with the
over the copyright notices placed in (and removed from)
the versions of
the Atheros wireless network driver intended for eventual merging into the
mainline Linux kernel. At that time, the files with the improperly removed
license text had never made it anywhere near the mainline repository and an
effort was being made to fix the problem. It really seemed like the whole
issue should end then.
So why does a perusal of the OpenBSD lists (and, often, unfortunately,
linux-kernel as well) turn up gems like these?
The rights and recognition of one of our own developers (reyk@)
have been molested, and all we've done as a community is to
participate in useless flames and blog postings. Theo has thrown
himself, once again, against the spears of the Linux community and
their legal vultures in order to protect our software freedoms.
How many of us can say we've done our part to defend truly Free
-- Jason Dixon
In the case of Ryek's [sic] code, the reverse is true but instead of
admitting the mistake and making the needed corrections, FSF has
pulled out their lawyers in hopes of getting away with the
theft. All of this is being done *intentionally* in hopes that no
one will put up a fight.
-- J.C. Roberts
I am really disappointed by all this. I would have expected that
once such a patch is suggested (let alone being committed to some
public place) some senior/respected/responsible Linux person would
tell them what they are doing is wrong. Right from the start. I
now see this is not how things work around here.
-- Can E. Acar
One might well think that the whole issue is still open. In fact, much of
the dispute has gone by the wayside. The files with the improperly removed
copyright notices never were going to make it to the mainline. The
allegations by Theo de Raadt that taking a dual-license notice at its word
was illegal have been pretty well laughed off; the OpenBSD camp is no longer
asserting that claim. In fact, there is really only one point of dispute
- The OpenBSD developers do not believe that developers Nick
Kossifidis and Jiri Slaby should have added their own copyright attributions
to the file ath5k_hw.c. Those two developers, it is claimed,
have not done enough work on that file to have earned any copyright
For this offense, the OpenBSD community continues to flame, threaten
lawsuits, and more. It seems that the developers named above should simply
add some original haiku to the opening comments so that their right to
claim copyright to portions of the file would be indisputable. Even in the
absence of bad poetry, these developers have done some small amount of work
and will certainly do more to get the code ready for Linux inclusion.
Threatening legal action as a way of keeping them from adding their own
attribution to the file seems gratuitous.
Part of what is going on here may be a simple culture clash. It seems
that, in the BSD world, the adding of a copyright attribution to a file is
done with the permission of the existing copyright holders. For a developer to
just patch an attribution can come across as being a bit rude. In the
Linux community, instead, developers simply add a copyright if they feel
they have done enough work to justify it. It is hard to come up with cases
where these attributions have gone in without merit.
Eben Moglen's one public contribution to
this conversation includes this paragraph:
We understand that attribution issues are critically important to
free software developers; we are accustomed to the strong feelings
that are involved in such situations. In the fifteen years I have
spent giving free legal help to developers throughout the
community, attribution disputes have been, always, the most
That is clearly what is going on here - this discussion is certainly
happening on a strongly emotional level. But it must be said that the most
harsh language seems to be flowing in one direction: from OpenBSD toward
Linux. This was also true when the situation was reversed and
an OpenBSD developer was found to have improperly relicensed some Linux
code. In both cases (and in others) there is a clear sense that the
OpenBSD people feel wronged by Linux.
One might well wonder why this is the case.
To an extent, OpenBSD developers may be following the tone set by that
project's leader. They may be irritated by the licensing asymmetry:
BSD-licensed code can be incorporated into a GPL-licensed project, but GPL-licensed code
cannot be brought into a BSD-licensed project. Or perhaps they feel that
their system has been unfairly upstaged by an inferior rival. Whatever the
reason, there is a certain hostility emanating from that camp which is
unpleasant to see.
It would be a mistake, however, to let the public flaming obscure the fact
that Linux and the BSD variants have much in common. There is certainly no
shortage of Linux proponents whose "advocacy" makes our community look
bad. BSD will have people like that too. Meanwhile, behind the scenes,
there is a great deal of good will, information, and code which flows in
both directions. We are all working toward the same ends, and there are
plenty of places where we can learn from the BSD communities. This
incident will pass, and hot heads will cool - before, undoubtedly, heating
up again on a different topic - but, through it all, free software will
just continue to get better.
Comments (34 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Exploiting symlinks and tmpfiles; New vulnerabilities in kvirc, openoffice, qt, quagga...
- Kernel: Large pages, large blocks, and large problems; A generic tracing interface; A summary of 2.6.23 internal API changes.
- Distributions: Fedora Audio Creation SIG; Fedora 8 Test 2; Gentoo Council 2007 Election Results; Ubuntu 7.10 beta approaching; Fedora Interview Series
- Development: Google Summer of Code 2007 Conclusion, OpenLDAP Update,
Device driver for ATI Radeon R500/R600,
KDE 3.5 on Nokia tablets, Introduction to Erlang,
new versions of PostgreSQL, BusyBox, Clonezilla, MailStripper, OpenNMS,
Vuurmuur, CUPS, ClamTk, FLAC, nova_filters, GNOME, GARNOME, Adaptive Planning,Chandler, XCircuit, pyFltk, Wine, Claws Mail, CK-ERP, Liferea, Firefox, Tcllib.
- Press: ISP DDoS attacks increasing, why Linux won't make it on the desktop,
KDE on Windows meeting, Linux World China, SCO files Chapter 11,
unlocked iPod, Dell customizes Ubuntu, Canonical courts Oracle,
Microsoft loses EU antitrust case, Loop-based Music Composition,
- Announcements: McHardy elected as Netfilter head, FSF on EU antitrust case, ActiveState
Komodo 4.2, IBM's Lotus Symphony, paid support for Freespire, Angolan
chooses Mandriva, Mozilla to launch MailCo, Seiko label printers for Linux,
printed PostgreSQL Reference Manuals, Greasemonkey scripts for LWN comments,
Zero Install survey, FLOSS+Art cfp, NDSS 2008 cfp, IRC meeting on AGPLv3and GPLv3, Linux Plumbers 2008.