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My Professional Focus and Goals in a Nutshell

Digital Control

I am not always a pessimist, but I do believe that in order to make positive progress we must concentrare on the illnesses and try to cure them. This is why most of my work at present revolves around advancing collaborative platforms like GNU/Linux (no tyranny on people’s desktops and servers). Sure, companies like Google and IBM make a lot of money out of the platform, but it does not take away from anyone else’s ability to use the same code. Overall, it leads to solidarity. Just watch how many companies jointly develop Linux (kernel space), including giants like AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA, which must play nice with the free graphics stack. A decade ago it was hardly conceivable, but here we are today with some truly powerful applications for GNU/Linux (some are still proprietary, especially games). It is exciting to see desktop environments like the K Desktop Environment (KDE SC) and GNOME desktop becoming highly competitive with whatever else is out there, proprietary included. LXDE and Xfce continue to serve an important role, especially in less capable PCs that rely on light-weight distributions. New releases of GNU/Linux come at a pace of about one per day and diversity continues to exist, with popular branches like the Mandrake/Mandriva family (with several derivatives), the Red Hat family (including Fedora), and the Debian family, which notably includes Ubuntu for the desktops (it has a huge number of variants).

The devices/embedded space is an area of considerable strength for Linux and sometimes GNU too. Phones are increasingly running Linux (with the industry’s leader, Nokia, among its biggest embracers, but Google’s Android is getting a lot more attention). Then we have sub-notebooks and tablets, many of which run Linux/Android. This is a triumph that almost nobody talks about. It also helped eliminate Microsoft’s margins in this area and got Apple so nervous that it decided to pathetically sue with software patents.

Sharing, Not Hoarding

Free software/Open Source is an even broader area where companies like Mozilla and projects like the Apache Web server show that technical merit is found in licences that encourage sharing. SaaS is increasingly a threat to software freedom, but it relies heavily on this software (databases, CMSs, etc.). Businesses increasingly adopt Free software, even though they typically call it “open source” (they are just allergic to the notion of “free”, perhaps still not realising that it’s about freedom, not cost). Funding for Free software continues to come as projects prove their worth to the market (MySQL for example) and BSD continues to evolve nicely along with GNU/Linux. Establishments like FSF/FSFE/SFLC provide a centre of power that is not driven by shareholders and GNU accommodates many important projects that are used by many millions (e.g. GRUB). Governments increasingly realise the importance of Free software licensing and openness of their data, which prevents perceptions of secrecy and thus corruption. Programmers increasingly teach themselves how to use languages and frameworks that put them in control, rather than put them in the hands of some ‘masters’ of a platform and an SDK/IDE. Applications that are free make up the ‘network effect’ that’s so crucial to the success of GNU/Linux and BSD. Almost anyone can now use a Free desktop without trouble (except for re-learning). Standards are promoted and made more prevalent as a result of Free software proliferation.

Addressing the Negatives

The revolution of Free software has wide-ranging effects on many other aspects of our lives. Science is enriched by it (increased sharing speeds up development), security is improved and surveillance gets reduced, the environment benefits from increased reuse of hardware components, and the financial market becomes more honest and transparent (e.g. for scrutiny before disaster strikes). The culture of AstroTurfing/lobbying is impeded by this culture of honesty and ethics; also, censorship is reduced, privacy honoured, and civil rights held up as more important and simpler to defend (no secrecy or conspiracy like ACTA or the Digital Economy Bill). The Internet becomes a more valuable resource (Wikipedia and Google are examples of valuable services), net neutrality is easier to defend (wireless meshes come to mind), and DRM becomes a relic from the past, much to the regret of the intellectual monopolies and copyrights cartel (which should not be allowed to exist in the first place).

Help the Fight Against Software Patents

If you have a moment to spare, please visit the following page and put your name down. The world needs your support to ensure elimination of the main legal barrier to the triumph of Free software.

You want to get your software association, software company, software consultancy, software project involved in the 24 September World Day Against Software Patents and are able to speak in the name of your organisation? Please give us your contact data below. Your organisation gets the opportunity to be listed as a supporter for the announcement of the World Day Against Software Patents.

Considering the following:

  1. The issue of software patents is a global one, and several governments and patent offices around the world continue to grant software & business method patents on a daily basis; they are pushing for legal codification of the practice, such as currently in New Zealand and India, and via the misappropriation of Free Trade Agreement instruments;
  2. Previous initiatives as the petition (approx. 400 000) at the EU level are outdated (notably on the issues of the central EU patent court) and not open for signatures anymore.
  3. Companies still view software patents as assets. They have yet to understand that software patents should also be considered liabilities, especially if they are in the hands of trolls.
  4. Time is on our side as litigation gets spread wide: Markets learn the hard way that you may not leave reform to patent professionals. Patent litigation is becoming wide spread in key markets such as the financial sector, and will be more wide spread in the software sector in the forthcoming years due to the number of applications pending;
  5. The United States lacks a coalition of business and civil society against software patents
  • The lobby gap makes Congress and Senate, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) and the Supreme Court susceptible to lobbying from patent industries, holders and patent professionals. American software creators have been intimidated by the patent establishment and have failed to make themselves heard.
  • Companies affected by software patent litigation have been lobbying for reform, but their advocacy for “quality” and “lower damages” aims at symptoms rather than the roots of the problem.

For these reasons,

We declare the 24 September as the World Day Against Software Patents, in commemoration of the European Parliament First Reading in 2003 with amendments stopping the harmful patenting of software, guaranteeing that software programmers and businesses can safely benefit from the fruits of their work under copyright law.

A Global Petition will be launched which asks to stop software patents, with some localised versions of the petition for specific regions, such as New Zealand, India, United States and Europe. The public will be invited to comment on the draft between the 1st and the 23rd September.

You can vote for it in Slashdot to help promote the cause.

I’m Almost Done with ”Open Source”. It Lost Its Way.

WHAT would you say if someone offered you a car replacement that is merely the same car with a crowbar?

Open Source has begun losing — at least judging by what’s out there ‘in the wild’ — the goals considered throughout its inception stages. Open Source has assimilated too much to what we already have in many areas, so there is too little distinction. The value of approved “Open Source” does not matter as much as it used to and those suffering include those who stick to the roots.

Back to “Free Software”

What’s truly being ruined is Free software, whose impact is forgotten because of the success of open source, which is lenient. Open Source can claims success, but is it truly the open source that founders of OSI had in mind?

I think I’m about to give up on Open Source altogether. Not Free software. Not GNU/Linux. I’m only referring to the increasingly diluted and meaningless thing that is nowadays known as “Open Source”. It used to be better. The ‘club’ opened its door too wide and it now includes unwanted members that do something which is akin to freeware with a premium edition. The ‘club’ also opened to door to its worst foes.

As I take a look at my “Open Source” feeds I come to find “open-sources software” (not the same as Open Source), companies that suppress participation by the outside world but call themselves “Open Source”, companies that boast .NET technologies with Microsoft licenses (thank you, OSI, for shooting yourselves in the foot). The latter is a case where the software depends on a whole ‘fat’ proprietary stack just to be able to run. In order to just run this case, one needs to throw wads of cash at a monopoly abuser and then be locked in. There are many other examples, but generally, the distinction between truly Free (and open source) software and proprietary software is no longer there. It’s fuzzy and confusing. The words are abused for their hype.


If you call yourself “Open Source” and you also fulfill the conditions of Free software, then you are encouraged to rename and change your identity. Set yourself apart from the crowd that is too dense for you to be seen.

Case of point: The “assembly required” business model is among those that make open source software quite repellent and fuels FUD against it. Examples include quite a few popular packages (maybe even Asterisk). They really ought to learn from Red Hat’s model, but that said, Red Hat has, at some stage, made deliberate errors to earn money from support. It was a long time ago and it’s possibly just a rumour.

The Good Bits

This post is not a statement favouring BSD/GPL ans saying that it’s a case of “all or nothing at all”. It’s close to this though. There are exceptions to all of this however. Putting aside the nature of the licence at hand, Google’s Android seems quite exciting and the early video previews are impressive. Here is one article of interest:

Google releases Android SDK preview

As expected, Google has released an “early look” version of its SDK (software development kit) for mobile phones. The Eclipse-based Android SDK lets users write Java applications that run on Dalvik, a virtual machine designed to run on top of Linux in embedded applications.

What is interesting about this product is that it not only enables end users to control the code, but it also brings choice to the selection of a carrier. It represents openness. It’s not just open code, but actual portability, which many open source projects continue to lack (Open Solution Alliance, anyone? Not a twit heard from it).

Microsoft is already threatened by Android. Just as FUD was spread by Steve Ballmer about the iPhone before its arrival, FUD was being spread about Android before it was even understand.

Microsoft’s FUD is clearly a case of sour grapes. After so many years, Windows Mobile has an abysmal market share of 4-6% and Microsoft hides its mobile division (through merging) in order to hide corresponding losses from the investor’s eye.

In case you did not know, the future is mobile (the desktop loses its role and significance). The future of mobile devices is Linux, so Linux need never conquer the desktop. The revolution will come in a way that nobody foresaw when Linux was born (1991). Companies begin to realise and acknowledge this.

Measure the Openness of Software

IT is becoming increasingly hard to tell apart Free software from what is enterprise open source software. The two are very different, yet the terms by which they are referred to are similar. There is no subtle difference here; it’s night and day.

So how does one measure “freedom” or “openness”? Assigning a number would be a subjective thing to do (choosing weighting for factors which some people consider more important than others). All in all, you could establish something similar to a troll test (troll-o-meter) and obtain a number on a finite scale. That number, which you then attribute to some certain scale/acid test, can be used to — let us say — sort/categorise/group projects for purpose X, based on its level of openness.

How you weigh the worth of redisribution, access to all code, programming language (e.g. open source project that is tied to SharePoint ain’t quite so, is it?) is debatable, and depending on who you ask and what interest (or software) that person has, you’ll get different answers. Just look at the anomaly and differences in the ESR/RMS/Linus perspectives. This could sometimes lead to flamewars, not debates.

Good News for GNU/Linux and Bad News to Rivals

SuSE Linux beta, KDE

THERE are many signs of change. Things are changing in terms of inertia. In the past few weeks, Linux and Free software have gained tremendous advantages, notably:

  • AMD/ATI drivers going open source (at least partially)
  • H-P expanding distribution of their Linux offering
  • ODF policies being finalised in Holland and in Russia

On the other hand, foes of Linux, open source, and other embodiments of digital freedom have suffered major setbacks, notably:

  • SCO admits it is falling into oblivion
  • OOXML is not accepted by the ISO
  • The European Court of First Instance imposes penalties that paint Microsoft as the monopoly abuser that it is, leading to or (at least spurring) similar action elsewhere in the world
  • The OSI rejects Microsoft’s application

These are great time for those wishing to see a culture released from digital shackles. Proprietary software will remain a 3-little jug of Coca Cola on a table at a fine restaurant while a diversity of wines (Free software) will inherit the vacuum left in industry. Great times are ahead, but as this Dilbert shows, there will be a lot of FUD and corruption from those who resist a transformation. A lot of stereotypes and myths (funny comic that one!) will be used to slow down adoption of the disruptive technology. But it’s inevitable. Disruptive technology always wins.

Keep your eyes open is the best you can do to avoid being misled.

How Open Source Software Prevents Lockins & Data Loss

Iron links

Break the shackles.Don’t let your data get
locked and the vendor have the key

MUCH has been said on the topic, but here is the gist. Open source, standards-based applications are much safer to choose. You know you will be able to access your data in the future.

Example: Can one truly open and recover, let us say, an Outlook 3 profile? Can one analyse its data once identified and recovered from an old computer? The matter of fact is that commercial vendors seek to make old versions obsolete. This leads to (frequently forced) upgrades which bring in revenue.

Open source programs don’t have the same interests and motives. They use standard data formats. If not properly documented (a rarity) the source code is available, in order for the data to be imported or parsed for subsequent use. Proprietary software does not have this merit. It is based on the lockin principle/stategy, which benefits the vendor, not the customer.

Spurring Open Source Journalism – Giving It a Concrete Case

Opacity in organisations hinders journalism that relies on transparency. The significance of this is best demonstared using a timely example. If you have been following the news recently, you probably heard about Microsoft taking a stand against Open Source software. Shortly after its partnership with Novell it is claiming patent infringement. The parallel to Open Source journalism is subtle, but nonetheless it’s there, provided one bothers to look closely enough.

One aspect of similarity, as well as a nice analogy, would be in a case of plagiarism — which either does or does not happen. There is no in-between. As long as plagiarism doesn’t occur, an Open Source Journalism organisation can cover the same topics as a traditional newspaper (just as there are always a million versions of every story). Nevertheless, there are subtitles in this technical case that involves Microsoft, its allies and its rivals — and there is just one truthful way to approach all of this. If anything it shows that Open Source projects have a community of people who believe strongly in their right to share collective knowledge without being attacked by so-called ‘soft patents’, which are independent from rendition or implementation.

Let us look at another interesting angle for a change. One issue that is commonly overlooked by reporters is the validity of Microsoft’s allegations, as well as intent. The traditional media can be easily (mis)led by the agenda of a company (Microsoft in this case), and particularly its press conferences and faceoff with the shareholders. There is sheer bias in these, whilst the truth (which is properly isolated from fear, uncertainty and doubt tactics) resides in the minds of people who are experts in the field and are equipped with contextual knowledge, including corporate history.

Man and his dogRed Hat, which is the main sufferer in this case due to the scale of its success with Open Source software, has been fighting articles which, much to Microsoft’s satisfaction, make it seem like Microsoft wants interoperation (a benevolent move) while Red Hat declines. The reality is that Microsoft’s proposal is extremely hostile and yet it’s hidden behind a straight face (or a smiling crocodile that will later shed a tear). The reality is that the media is being fooled while only the ‘little people’ know the truth which is concealed, deeply buried below this announcement. Red Hat can only publish rebuttals on its Web site, or get blogs to advertise the truth. It’s grip on press releases is mere compared to that of the software giant. Titans can overwhelm the press with their own ‘truths’. Microsoft seeks to pass on a death knell, which has already plagued Novell, due to its recent partnership with Microsoft.

I was told that one of Jay Rosen’s punchlines is: “NewAssignment.Net will write about stories the regular news media didn’t do, can’t do, wouldn’t do or already screwed up.” I hereby contend that the coverage of this particular story serves as an excellent case study. It demonstrates that behind all the public talk there is a mental games which is sadly overlooked by mainstream media. Thus, it simply fails to reach those who will not investigate for themselves, read between the lines, or rely on technocrats who clarify what truly goes on, as described by Matthew (list of FUD-type announcements from Microsoft), among many others across the blogsphere.

News outlets are controlled or at least motivated by companies, so there’s a conundrum of ownership where finance serves as a principal factor. That worrisome residue of publication channels must be combatted. Some of the most ‘successful’ articles, as judged by readship, are inflammatory or extreme in view. They provoke. Does it necessarily make them beneficial to the reader? Are they informative or downright deceiving? People’s well-informed opinions and choices can get past announcements which hide the truth in order to save face. Sometime, one would argue, the bigger picture is entirely missed because only ‘little people’ have the knowledge — but it’s hard to get the message out. But pooling the knowledge together is an answer — RedHat can’t pull this off because they pool knowledge together around software. A paradigm that aligns with that of NewAssignment.Net will hopefully be able to elevate the vote and voice of the masses. The goal is to pool knowledge around just that — times when media spun stories are off the mark.

In summary, Open Source journalism is an area that could help — in this case fight off the misconceptions about Open Source software. It can extract the message and knowledge from people that have no commercial interests or hidden agendas. This particular discussion tends to be both litigious and technical, so it requires the joining of the minds from both fields. It empowers the eventual, polished product.

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