Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Open Source: LZMA

A while back I wrote a single post about the era I believe we are at the doorstep of. At the time, it was more of a crazy theory of which I wasn't sure I believed it myself. It was more of a feeling than anything. Recently I have come to believe it more and more. For those who have missed the installment in question, let me summarize it. I feel that we're on the edge of a new era. Technological progress is slowing down (with computers being one of the notable example). Instead, we now have to go find out what we do with the technology we do have. The new advances will be mostly social, in the way we use our technology. A major battle that will be fought at the beginning of this era is the one for freedom of information and it will shape the entire era.

Now that that is behind us, let me get to talking about the subject of the day: Open Source. This is usually mentioned in the context of software, as that's where it originated and still is the place where it is the biggest by far. However, one could argue it applies to just about anything copyright governs. It is about the freedom to duplicate, spread and modify the content you receive. The thing that relates this to the fight I described above is that very copyright. It is heavily involved in this battle, though mostly as a weapon or a subject, it isn't the wrong-doer itself. Open Source is in fact voluntarily giving up copyright.

Today I saw what I consider on of the biggest victories for Open Source I have ever seen. It is not all that long ago that open source was a thing for nerds who ran this mystic thing known as Linux. This has been changing, and one of the most telling signs may be that current poster boy for linux is barely any harder to use than Windows. (Not everyone may like Ubuntu, especially not all the nerds. Still, it is hard to deny it is currently the poster boy.) However, that is just one aspect of the whole story. I think one of the earlier big victories was FireFox, the browser that dethroned Internet Explorer, who was sitting back while it thought it had won the browser war already.

Since that victory, we have also seem what I would personally dub "semi-Open Source", which was a number of companies (most notably Google) who release their software under an Open Source license because their business strategy wasn't based on selling their software. The most notable example might be yet another example, Google's Chrome. It is clear that one of the major driving forces behind releasing this under an open source was that they wanted to be able to incorporate improvements made by the community into their own product and they do wait before releasing new features under an open source license to make sure they don't lose their "competitive edge". However, it still continued to promote open source. On top of that, it also showed that open source and profit-based companies aren't necessarily incompatible.

From there, I want to talk about the latest victory I have seen lately: LZMA.

I don't blame you if you just scratched your head and wondered what that abbreviation meant. However, the meaning isn't the important thing. The important thing is what it is the name of: the successor to rar. Besides zip - because of its integration in Windows - rar has been the leader in compressed archives. The open source communities have always used alternatives to it, but never did those other options make the cross over to Windows users.

LZMA has already become somewhat of a new standard in the open source world, where an important reason is just that its compression rates are really good. Of course, there it also met the hard requirement of being open source itself. Slowly, I have seen it seep into the more nerdy communities of Windows users as well. However, today I saw mention of it by a "software cracker". Oh, don't get me wrong, that's still a nerdy bunch, but they are making software for the uninitiated in the arts of computerfare (well, the technical part anyway, these people are good at playing games). And yes, he was merely talking about the next version of something and he was still going to hide lzma archives behind an "auto-extractor" so the end user would not even get to see it was there, but I still think that slowly but surely lzma is moving into a a really good position in the non-open source world. From that position, I think it will be able to take over this hill from rar and become king of it.

Imagine downloading a file from the internet that is compressed. Without spending a second thought, you open the lzma file it came in. Without even realizing, you just use open source in your normal usage. If getting that deep under the skin of the non-open source user isn't a major victory for open source, I don't know anymore.