The number of people using Linux (and I mean Linux the kernel) and free software in general has exploded in the last 2 years thanks to Android and Google. Even if you want to discard phones and only count the tablets (which are starting to get very close to laptops in terms of what you can do with them), the number of new users is huge. And yet, we are all hostage of a choice -- a bad choice, in my humble opinion -- that Google made: Java.
I'm sure I don't need to explain SOPA or ACTA to regular readers of Free Software Magazine. They're toxic. End of. But RWA? It stands for Research Works Act. It's not the big sexy beast of the other two but it is, in its way, just as insidious and as harmful to the freedom of scientific publishing as SOPA and ACTA are to internet freedom and it's all interconnected. Here's why.
Movie piracy is the next big thing. The RIAA is quickly realising that their reputation is nearly beyond unrecoverable, after taking to court single mums, dead people, and children. In the meantime, in Australia they are having secret meetings to try and work out a way to prevent movie privacy. The solution is simple: to kill movie privacy, allow people to download movies, make it cheap, and make it easy. Yes it's hard. But yes, it's rewarding.
Software is becoming less and less important. Most people today just don't care about what software they use, what operating system they run, or who is behind the pretty screens they see. What they want, is something that works. Or, better, anything that works. This shift caused a series of changes which shook the whole industry. One of them amongst them: are GNU/Linux and free software in general just not cool anymore? Google Trends gives some interesting answers.
YouTube is good, but not ideal, and the lack of a download link is somewhat annoying. So I spent some time researching good free media hosting sites for large files and ISOs. Torrent sites are particularly good for hosting the high-definition versions.
When Diaspora was announced, the first thing I checked was simple: "Is it distributed?" The answer was "yes!". I felt ecstatic: having a distributed system implied that there was no centralised control over the information. What I didn't realise is that multiple pods would also lead to multiple problems -- and now I wonder whether a de-centralised structure creates more problems than it solves. I write this article screaming: please prove me wrong. It's not a challenge: it's a genuine request. I love Diaspora as a project, and I really want it to work.
Lovers and users of free and open source software are a hardy bunch. They've seen it all: Microsoft EULAs, DRM, UEFI, proprietary software and constant attempts to prevent end users jailbreaking and rooting the devices they paid for with hard-earned cash. If you think you've seen and heard it all, well, you haven't. Apple may have trumped them all with a possibly unique EULA.
There is a problem with the world of illegal piracy that we have online today, but it's not what the RIAA and MPAA want you to think it is. It's that we've become accustomed to participating in illegal copying, and yet it is still illegal. This means that we have the illusion of a body of work that can be built upon, remixed, and combined with new work, but if real artists practice this commercially, we are exposed to legal attack.
By now you'll have heard and experienced the anti-SOPA protest. Wikipedia, Wired, Wordpress, Google, Twitpic and even this very tome were joined by probably thousands of smaller sites as large sections of the web went black to demonstrate what the web might end up like should SOPA be passed. As a Brit I joined in - even though the bill is a US one - because the effects of this nefarious piece of "leglislation" would most certainly be felt on the fair green isles that make up my homeland. The good news is both SOPA and PIPA were shelved after the protest - which proves if nothing else the power of protest. Yes they may wel return in some other form so the fight may not be over but the protest itself (for me) raised another question: is the [English-speaking] web too US-centric?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new business model, recently acquiring financial success, must be in want of taxation. So it appears to be for Kickstarter, as I discovered, now that the first business tax filing deadlines are approaching me.
In the United States, Nielsen has long been the main source of data for evaluating television shows and stations for advertisers. It's considered a very reliable source. So their inclusion of data on web video watching habits in their 2011 report on the "The U.S. Media Universe" is a real boon to anyone planning to enter this field. It's interesting to ask what are the consequences to free culture productions and the free software used for creation and consumption of video arts.
The US Department of Justice, chose the day after the massive Internet blackout protest against SOPA / PIPA to demonstrate their power by acting as if these laws were already in effect. At first, I was simply dismayed and angered by this reprehensible act, but I began to wonder if there isn't also an opportunity here to challenge a major part of of the legacy entertainment industry's rhetoric in a court of law, where their mendacity on the subject would constitute perjury.
I write this article exactly 24 hours after receiving my Galaxy Tab 10.1. It's something I've been wanting for a long time. I had to wait for the dispute between Apple and Samsung to settle (Samsung actually lost on millions of dollars worth of sales thanks to software patents, but that's another story). After all that, I came to the realisation that we are in front of a forking path. On one side there is the death of GNU/Linux as we know it. On the other side, there is a new exciting world where free software is still relevant. I am not writing this just to be "sensational": here is why.
Last year, as I was checking the licensing and attribution on the tracks in my soundtrack library for Lunatics, I came across a bizarre and rather disturbing practice: bait and switch licensing as a ploy to sell music. This is a truly weird idea, if you understand what a free-license means, and it's deeply unethical, but here's what I think is going on: the artist (or more likely, some intermediary, such as a small record label) gets the idea of using a "free" loss-leader to try to draw people into buying a commercial/proprietary album.
When the coalition UK government was formed following the last general election there was some guarded optimism among those who support open standards (many of whom also support the ideals of free software). This was based on pre-election rhetoric from the two parties that formed the coalition in 2010. Less than a year later stories hit the headlines of a new open standards procurement policy.
A few years ago, I discovered a site called "FreeSound.org" which sounded quite exciting, but turned out to be rather disappointing because the content was released under the Creative Commons "Sampling+" license, which is not a free license. This made all of the content incompatible with use on free software or free culture projects, and was very frustrating, especially given the name. Last month, though, Creative Commons decided to retire the Sampling+ licenses, and FreeSound.org is rolling out a new site with a license chooser that favors the "CC 0" public domain declaration and the "CC By" attribution licenses -- both compatible with free projects. This will be a big help for free-culture multimedia projects.
If there's anything 2011 will be remembered for, it's probably going to be the wave of mass protests that reverberated around the world (and is still traveling). I don't think we've seen the end of this. I think this is the leading edge of an on-going pattern that will continue for decades. What's happened is that a kind of behavior common online has jumped a groove and found a place in the "real world".
In an earlier phase of my life, I worked as a professional astronomer, and I've loved space and astronomy since before I could pronounce the words. So naturally, I've gotten a lot of personal pleasure from the free software astronomy tools that are included in my Debian GNU/Linux system. But ironically, I haven't written about them much. Recently, though, I was asked a question which I used KStars to answer, so this is a good chance to talk about how to use it.
UPDATE: As pointed out by Bill Slawski, most recently submitted patent applications don't show up within that time period in USTPO searches or Google's patent search because they are initially filed confidentially, under 35 U.S.C. 122 Confidential status of applications; publication of patent applications. So, I was gracefully wrong!
Software patent wars have always existed: companies fought them (or paid up), sometimes quietly, sometimes making a big fuss. However, something has changed over the last year or so: people started getting directly affected by software patents (ask anybody wanting a Samsung Galaxy Tab in Australia for Christmas 2011...). Lately, two things came to my attention: Google acquired 200 patents from IBM. But, more interestingly: Google hasn't filed any patents over the last several months.
I wanted to make an impression with my title. I hope I managed. I am writing this article as Gingerbreak's wheel spins aimlessly runs on my Galaxy S phone. I have little hope that I will actually be root on my phone. Here I am: I intended to write an article about Busybox, in order to turn an Android phone into something that really resembled a GNU/Linux system. I failed, twice: as a user, I failed gaining control of my own phone. As a free software advocate, I failed warning people about what could have happened -- and indeed I let it happen.