Experiences in the community

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webapps, memories and copyright-2

This post is in continuation of the last post about webapps, the different kind of webapps,my experiences and expectations with them and reminiscing the past.

While re-reading the post yesterday, in hindsight we also never knew/thought that it was possible that they (whoever) posted the nude images might have gone through a normal (for that time) analog photography (reel, chemical based photography) used dark-room techniques to highlight or not to produce the photographs, scan them at whatever resolution they were able to and then upload to the server they had access to with both limitations in server space and file formats.

Cut to today where you can download images (high-resolution) and print them which can fill a room without breaking a sweat.

Anyways, around the same time i.e. 1998 I was (still am) a voracious reader. I was privileged to be able to join the British Council Library at that time. It was and is still expensive to be a BCL member but for that period of time it was worth it. I had a fascination for computer technology and was able to get my hands on various mags. such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, scores of heavy (300~400 pages of magazines on IT). They had (and guess still continue to) a British mag corner, an American mag. corner and an Indian mag. corner . There were (and again I guess there still are) nice sitting places where you could sit and read. One of these times my eye went to a small Indian mag. which was called ‘Linux For You‘. Around these times magazines had started bundling CD’s/DVD’s with compilations of latest softwares, some promotional material, some old games and some demo games and software.

Linux For You also had bundled CD’s and the screenshots in the magazine made me curious enough. The screenshots looked inviting as well as the idea that this was free to use and could share it with people made it feel right. While I read the mag. there itself (from cover to cover), went the next day and bought the mag. for the CD bundled with it. Had not bought a machine as while the prices had lowered a bit for number of reasons, people were starting to get scared for the Y2K fever. It was interesting to see how the west had become paranoid while at the same time realize that how much the western world (specifically the USA) had relied on automation and digitization. Those two words hadn’t entered the mainstream use at that point.

What I did with that bundle was to convince couple of friends to get a spare hard disk (or he already had one) and we tried installing the OS and completely failed. While it was ok to fail as we were just trying it out, what was a relevation to me was there seemed to be some kind of licensing for hdd (Hard Disk Drive). Apparently, at that time you could buy only one hdd per machine or something in that frame. I dunno whether it was an actual legal thing done by Govt. of India or some Ministry or was it that there was scarcity of hdd’s but whatever the case it took him some convincing his dad to get another hdd.

For me this was also a pointer that perhaps it’s not the right time to buy because I was seeing these Western Magazines where it seemed to be so easy to buy as much as you want (provided you had the cash sure). Anyways, we experimented on and off and for two years didn’t get anywhere. I had also joined PLUG at that time but it did not help me as the people at that time were pretty self-obsessed, later came to know that there were some nasty stuff and generally falling out of the community for couple of years.

Around 1999-2000 most of my friends and me had come to know of a file-sharing client by the name of Napster. While I was not a huge consumer of movies,prOn, games and software but still I was hooked to it. Somehow the aesthetics, the User Interface (UI) of the software I found interesting . I was hired by some pseudo American company with some Indian management which wanted to give a Napster like service, basically a file-sharing product. There was a development office somewhere in Pune. The deal was to go to some URL, download a new release every few hours/days/week, try to figure out what issues are there either in the UI and boolean operators vis-a-vis Napster, what feature-set would people like and just give those reports. More of manual testing then anything else. It went on for around couple of years after which some of the Indian management guys sold the IP to some company somewhere and goofed off.

Anyways, cut to 2002/3 where I was able to buy my own computer. Prices had fallen radically till this point and it became possible to buy a Pentium 4 with a 17″ HDD, works and furniture for around Rs. 40,000 . I had started working a bit doing some odd installation kinda jobs and saved some money and used all the tricks with the family to get a Personal Computer . The family still had ideas about how the Computer would guzzle much electricity (partially right) and how much time might be wasted playing games (plead guilty, my lord). Using all the wits, finally landed with a PC at my place.

Six to eight months down the line, finally Pune Telecom (child company/subsidiary of BSNL) started issuing shell accounts to Individuals . I know this was launched on 15th of August and while I was one of the first ones in the city to register for the service, I got my connection almost 6~8 months after few other people did. It was a sort of precursor to ADSL and was connected via an internal (56K baud modem) . I dunno if segmented downloading or/and BitTorrent had become mainstream or not but do remember somehow downloading some GNU/Linux .iso’s over the period of many a sleepless night. The terms were something on the lines of if you connected to the Internet around graveyard time the charge would be less (23:00 hours to 7:00 hours) and so many a half-asleep night went.

There are/were many reasons that gravitated me to GNU/Linux. For the first time you were not a ‘pirate’. You got a complete functional system with huge amount of software (with the caveat though) that you knew how to install the damn OS. There was also possibility of free upgrades but again the technical skills needed for the same were beyond my capabilities at the time. My first successful GNU/Linux installation was on the distribution named as Mandrake at the time and the logo had a stick, a hat and a smattering of stars (very much like Mandrake the magician we know) . Couple of releases later there was some court case as the copyright holders sued Mandrake for copyright infringement and they were forced to change it to Mandriva. Both Redhat and Mandrake were based on an .rpm file format which had data integrity features and other things was while superior to the existing Windows .exe format and was more transparent had some issues while updating/upgrading the environment.

I have to point out that the net connectivity of 56 Kbps for me alone (of course with the 1:25 sharing by BSNL) was way way better than the 56 Kbps divided by 3 or 4 computers in a cyber-cafe where one had to buy in the range of Rs. 50/- to Rs. 75/- an hour just couple of years ago. The boom time for cyber-cafes was in 2004~2008 where there was a mushrooming in cyber-cafes and one could surf for as little as 10 bucks an hour and for lots of my friends it was a competitive mode of entertainment then going to a Cinema theater when you were unsure whether you would get a ticket or not and playing and shouting on some FPS game either as a team or against each other was more fulfilling for them (whereas in a movie theater you have to sit silent and tight).

Some of the more innovative places had a cyber-cafe with some food joint just next to it so people would order food from there, chat with make-believe (and perhaps real) women from beyond . Even though now I had my own connection, at times with friends going to cafes and seeing this all around me it was fascinating. I saw at least 2 or 3 teenagers who were either playing some MMORPG or seeing some Porn for 15~30 hours straight (this was from the cybercafe owner/cashier). I don’t know what their problems were (if any) or how they could be out for so long but did not really want to know, not my cup of tea but it was fascinating in some sense to see some people going to the extreme (at least from my POV) . I also tried it out at some point in time and apart from a big headache at the end of the session, did not see any worth in it, frankly. The charges for these places had become reasonable to around Rs. 15/- to Rs. 20/- an hour and the other gender (ladies, girls) had also started venturing into these cafes.

I was able to be with quite a few companies but none of them worked out as they had a single product or project most of the time and I had been literally spoiled due to being aware of different softwares at that time. Personal Instant Messaging had become huge with mIRC and a new boy/baby called ICQ. While IRC was basically like going to a room which had some topical convention, ICQ had the ability of having own friend lists. Also the beginning of the modern forums (as we know them today) were being sowed.

Cut to 2004 and multiple things had happened. Came to know of a little company (at that time) by the name Canonical and its claim to fame was a free CD that you could order online and was couriered to you by them, the name of the OS was called Ubuntu . It had a very different branding to some of the other major players namely Mandrake/Mandriva, Redhat and Suse/Opensuse (although don’t think the Opensuse fork or whatever it is happened at that time). I was more moved by the theme and colors rather than any foreknowledge of the technicality underneath Ubuntu. The installation of this OS was much easier than Mandriva at least for me. The packaged softwares were the same but some of them were broken. By broken I mean they wouldn’t work. I don’t remember maybe it was the smart marketing or the ideals they played around humanity or something else, I stuck with it. The development team behind it was small back them (guess it was something like 6~60 odd developers at that time, the figures bandied around that time). The good graces were the forums and people seemed to be lot more courteous and friendly than some of the other forums. As time went on, many of the initial issues although were addressed and updating and upgrading systems became easier, it was still a hit and miss.

They did innovate or at least I came to know about Live CD through them. The idea that you could put in a CD which would emulate how it would look in a new computer without messing anything in the computer. Back then, as still today especially in the newest computers you could not say if the system would respond properly and you will get a nice GUI interface which we had come to love.Things have improved today quite a lot from before but having a Live CD/DVD is always an advantage.

I have to say that of all the technologies I mentioned above, browsers, BitTorrent and multi-protocol messaging clients are my favorites.

When Mozilla came up with tabbed browsing, session restore, profile saver and mover I just felt in love with it. This was the first time the data within the browser was open, it was using some sort of .xml at that time and it was easy for me to know what was in there. It was transparent and I was able to move profiles between computers,browser versions with an ease I had not known before.

BitTorrent and its clients came into their own when almost all of them had DHT (Distributed Hash Table) and PEX (Peer Exchange). For the first time it was possible to make,send and multiply huge number of copies of some huge file without taking the server down. Apart from mainstream copyright stuff being churned and circulated, there was a huge huge underground current of artists who were doing their own thing. Youtube had just started but the speeds needed for streaming as well as the videos shown were of not so high a quality. So while it also sowed some seeds for creativity and distributed streaming digital entertainment and education, BitTorrent was the real hero.

I dunno why but was attracted somehow more to the supposedly amateur and underground stuff (still am). Lot of it may be gruff but that’s the case with mainstream hollywood/Bollywood stuff as well. I have no answer for this, it just is.

Now what are web apps? A very casual informal description of a web app would be an application which interacted with the Internet in someway and was limited to few things like :-

a. a web browser
b. an instant-messaging client
c. a file-distribution/transfer client

and few other apps. As time has moved on and even though there are dangers to cloud services things have moved to cloud more and more. The move of KDE and now GNOME to have JavaScript for their ecosystem only underscores the importance that Internet has on the desktop. Almost all and any server technology by definition and usage is a web app so what’s left.

Now as far as copyright is concerned, its simple, whatever may have been the original idea, as of today its simple rent-seeking tool as of today. From whatever I have seen, understood and known copyright has been anathema to any technology which makes it easy for people to have more choice. They have been against GNU/Linux, they have been against organizations and initiatives like Creative Commons and BitTorrent which engages the public to have more choice and more expression. What is interesting to note that in any debate concerning issues like Net Neutrality and expression, organizations like MPAA and RIAA are more often than not against these objectives.

So at the end what is my expectations from web apps? Web apps are still too laid back for my taste, only few web apps do refreshing of new content for my taste. While I may like and love the idea of being in control of what I want to use and see, I would also like and love to be able to get new content without having to make effort. It’s still too much of a pull-based effort rather than a push-based effort. To take an example, forums for e.g. need to be more proactive and for sure I would be first more interested to know if any threads I asked a query or put up something, I would want to see that. Also a service like Google Alerts but within the whole ecosystem i.e. within forums, within different web-services. The possibility of having it interpreted differently or in different context would always be there but would find new content like content from Vodo.net which is mostly free of charge and have unique, interesting and innovative business models. I really wish their tribe grows.

That’s all for now.

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