I have been wanting to write this article for a while. Years, in fact. I am determined to write it in the simplest possible format: no punch-line at the bottom, no building up to a grand conclusion, but simply stating something impressive, true, and simply wonderful: the hegemony that Internet Explorer once upon a time had is... over. Right now, other browsers are fighting amongst each other, and it's all about how much of IE's share they are getting. The war is over: Internet Explorer lost. Everybody else won.
When we think of free operating systems we tend to think overwhelmingly of the big hitters (all GNU/Linux) like Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora and Mandriva and then of those niche distros that have been designed for low end systems or for specialist purposes like security and forensics. But Oranges are not the only fruit. There is a hinterland out there called Unixland, populated by other less well known systems whose roots are firmly Unix too. BSD for example, famed for its rock-like security. OpenSolaris is another one, perhaps less well known, but it has features that are well worth a punt.
Latest from the Bizarre Cathedral.
Like any other aspect of life the internet is awash with hype. And snake oil salesmen. It's lure exceed the benefits those spam e-mails promise that inundate your inbox with offers of little blue pills to reach those parts of your anatomy other chemicals just can't reach. However, sometimes the hype is not just, well, hype.
Mozilla's Firefox browser has been downloaded more that one billion times and its success is reflected in the millions of downloads of one of its killer features: addons (or extensions, as we geriatrics called them). The Browser operates under a tri licence and the addons for it are overwhelmingly free and open too. They empower the user and extend the browser. They help to put the user in control. Ubiquity does this in a way that makes web mashups creative fun and allows you to command the web, not just surf it, without any need to be a programming master of the universe.
Latest from the Bizarre Cathedral.
I've been editing the Philippine Star Trek fans' section of the New Worlds Alliance site for a few months now, and the contributors have been submitting their articles embedded in the email message. I actually prefer that to an attached file, because I can read the article right away, without having to open another application. When I'm ready to edit, I ask GMail to create a Google document out of it. Trouble is, the resulting file has hard new-line characters after every line, and a double new-line between paragraphs. I could cursor to the end of each line, delete it, and type in a space, but my inner sloth told me there had to be a better way.
It's never nice to hear about the demise of a piece of simply brilliant software. when I discovered that get_iplayer was being pulled by its developer I was, to use a cliche, gutted. The potential loss of a piece of software that did just what it said on the tin is bad enough but it was impeccably free and open. What's more, it was an example to the BBC about how things should be done. It was the work of one lone, unpaid developer, not the product of professional developers subsidised by the BBC licence. What happened exemplifies everything that is wrong with proprietary software.
For the benefit on non-British readers I should explain that the BBC has an excellent website and it includes the iPlayer which allows visitors to view BBC audo and video content in their browser. When it was launched it was, surprise, Windows only. As many licence fee payers were also GNU/Linux users, they were enraged that they had effectively been excluded from the experience. BBC FUD ensued. Eventually though, lobbying and petitioning paid off and the BBC enabled the iPlayer for platforms other than Windows. You needed (and still need) (Adobe) Flash to view the video content and the content was encumbered with DRM and was not yours for keeps. It was only a thirty-day visitor to your hard drive.
Most people with an interest in software freedom will turn to GNU/Linux as their operating system of choice. Few realize however, that the vast majority of GNU/Linux distros are not entirely free. Imagine migrating away from Windows, only to find that by installing GNU/Linux you are accepting a restrictive Microsoft license!
Many distros promote the use of proprietary software, knowingly show incorrect licenses, and attempt to hide the problem under the guise of an 'option of freedom'. When the majority of developers of a collection of software don't care about freedom, neither will their users. Non-free distros make almost no attempts to inform their userbases of the importance of freedom, even though they wouldn't exist without it. I will discuss how the option of freedom is an unacceptable solution, and propose some real fixes.
Earlier today (March 24th, 2010), I submitted this response to the IPEC call for public comment on future Intellectual Property enforcement policy. Given the short notice (only six days!), I was not able to come up with a more detailed response, but I did want to express my dismay at the way these policies are being framed.
My son's hand-me-down motherboard recently gave up the ghost, and I decided that was a good excuse for an upgrade. Shopping around, I found that multi-core CPUs were finally in my price range, so I decided to build him a quad-core system. This build worked out extremely well, with almost no configuration problems, not even for accelerated 3D graphics or ALSA sound -- all using the latest Debian GNU/Linux (which means it'll also work with Ubuntu or other derivatives). This one has that "classic" feel -- everything just clicked into place. So I wanted to document it here. This also serves as a technology update to my earlier article on selecting hardware for a free-software-friendly system.
Free software exists in a kind of "special trade zone" within the existing copyright system, defined by free copyleft licenses like the GNU General Public License (GPL). Free culture has created similar zones with tools like the Creative Commons' licenses. We usually consider that to be sufficient. Yet we are often frustrated by the desire to interface with the rest of our culture, and sooner or later we'll all have to face the big bugbear that is reforming the copyright system. Aside from a few vested interests in the entertainment industry, nearly everyone hates the system we've got -- it's clearly overreaching and ill-adapted to the electronic world of the internet. But what sort of system would we like? That's much more contentious. Here's a synthesis of a few prominent ideas of what real copyright reform might look like.
In lieu of today's regular column, I've decided to present an edited transcript of a very informative interview of Nina Paley by Thomas Gideon of "The Commandline Podcast." Paley has been doing a lot of interviews since her free-licensed release of "Sita Sings the Blues" and her subsequent work with QuestionCopyright.org (specifically her two "Minute Meme" animations: "Copying Is Not Theft" and "All Creative Work is Derivative") -- reading them all would be quite a bit of work. But this interview is possibly the best -- covering all of the major issues she's been talking about in what I thought was a very insightful way. So: kudos to Nina Paley and to her interviewer, Thomas Gideon, and I hope you find this text version interesting.
Latest from the Bizarre Cathedral. The mutt gets creative about Ubuntu.
Barely a day goes by when you switch on your computer, plug into the web and come across yet another deranged scheme to restrict freedom in the name of security, safety or morality. RIAA, DMCA, RIPA, Pallidium computing, the list almost seems to grow exponentially. So, some guys got together in a dark room, brainstormed and came up with yet another ruse to curtail access to and use of the internet. Relax, this one won't fly. Trust me. But the sheer audacity of it! Even the bovine docility of Windows users wouldn't stomach this one (or would they?)--and here's the irony.
The biggest science story to hit the mainstream media in the last year was of course the big switch on at CERN. What made it such a great story for me was not just the sheer and audacious enormity of the enterprise or the humbling nobility of the colossal experiment but the story behind the story. That story was the absolutely central role of free software philosophy at the heart of everything CERN was (and is) doing. Despite the false start, CERN's search for the Higgs Boson has got into its stride. The same cannot be said for the car crash that is climate science, which may have inflicted terminal damage on the reputation of science. I believe the rigorous application of free software methodology in conjunction with the Fourth Paradigm may save it.
There seems to be no respite from the predations of Microsoft FUD and the machinations of Big Business. Just when it seemed safe to come out of the closet and admit to being a user of free and open source software without being accused of being a Communist, it appears that we are now criminals too--even if we are not using pirated versions of proprietary software. The culprit this time is something called "Special 301", an annual review of the status of foreign intellectual property laws carried out under the auspices of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) which is an Executive Office of the President. It's definition of criminal would make criminals of every single user of FOSS.
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FOSDEM 2010 - A Personal Account
(with all personal details withheld)
FOSDEM - a geek trip to Brussels. Going abroad to experience different cultures. Or at least, a chance to eat chips, suffer rain, and watch American TV in a different country.