A new conventional wisdom began to spring up around free software, led in part by theorists like Eric Raymond, who were interested in the economics of free software production. Much of this thought centered around service-based and other ancillary sales for supporting free software. Based on this kind of thinking, it's fairly easy to imagine extending free licensing ideas to utilitarian works. But what about aesthetic works? The Creative Commons was established in 2002, largely to solve the kinds of licensing problems that aesthetic works might encounter, and it has been remarkably successful, pushing the envelope of even this newer wave of thought. Today, Creative Commons licensed works number in at least the tens of millions. And more than a quarter of those are using the free "Attribution" or "Attribution-ShareAlike" licenses.
It used to be that you could safely assume a work was public domain unless there was a highly visible warning printed on it, containing both the copyright owner and the date of copyright (at least in the USA). This system also ensured that, when the work's copyright expired, you could tell from any copy that this was so—by simply adding the duration of copyright to the date printed in the work's copyright notice. The Berne Convention, however, changed all that by replacing the assumption of freedom with the assumption of monopoly, and it now takes extensive research to be sure a work is public domain.
The Creative Commons' new CC-Zero initiative, instigated largely as an adjunct to the Science Commons' "Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data" is designed to make things easier.
Microsoft Exchange is the name most organisations go for when thinking of sharing calendars, e-mail etc. However, there are free software alternatives--and of course you don't have to go for the obvious or popular option.
Project Gutenberg, started in 1971, is the oldest part of the modern free culture movement. Wikipedia is a relative upstart, riding on the wave of success of free software, extending the idea to other kinds of information content. Today, Project Gutenberg, with over 24,000 e-texts, is probably larger than the legendary Library of Alexandria. Wikipedia is the largest and most comprehensive encyclopedic work ever created in the history of mankind. It's common to draw comparisons to Encyclopedia Britannica, but they are hardly comparable works—Wikipedia is dozens of times larger and covers many more subjects. Accuracy is a more debatable topic, but studies have suggested that Wikipedia is not as much less accurate than Britannica as one might naively suppose.
Not long ago I watched a free software developer totally lose his cool with a user who (admittedly very frustratingly) posted a "bug report" in Spanish on an English-language project that amounted to "it doesn't work". He posted a very sarcastic reply in a couple of random languages (one of them through a machine translator). It was an understandable reaction, and in a way, kind of funny if you could understand all of the languages involved, but it wasn't exactly good public relations. It was a sure sign of burnout. He had forgotten one important point: you are not obligated to help just because you wrote the thing.
It has long been the case that proprietary software companies regularly engage in FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tactics against their opponents. This particularly seems to apply to Microsoft's statements about free software in general and GNU/Linux in particular. Recently I've noticed a surge in the amount of FUD going the other way--from the FOSS community towards Microsoft and other proprietary software companies. Why do we feel it is necessary to fight FUD with FUD
It's one of the more popular culture wars in the free software community: GUI versus CLI (graphics versus the command-line). Programmers, by selection, inclination, and long experience, understandably are attracted to textual interactions with the computer, but the text interface was imposed originally by technological limitations. The GUI was introduced as a reply to those problems, but has undergone very little evolution from 1973 (when it was invented at Xerox PARC) to today. So why can't we do better than either of these tired old systems?
M6-IT, a Community Interest Community in the UK, are part way through a project to equip socially excluded families with computers running Xubuntu. I was recently able to interview Richard Rothwell of M6-IT about this project and its progress.
Say you're looking for free software on the internet. You are quite likely to come across sites like Super Shareware, Shareware Links, Software Files, Download Junction and VCL Components. Ah, software directories. You find a vast wealth of free software options, download what you want, and think about how awesome free software is. So you've found what you're looking for. Or have you?
SCALE is on again. This year, Free Software Magazine will tease you about this ever-growing event with some numbers and some highlights. Hopefully, you will want to go as much the we do!
Some numbers about SCALE (some of them are estimates):
- Attendees in 2002 (SCALE 1x): 400
- Attendees in 2006: 1100
- Attendees in 2007: 1300
- Attendees in 2008 (forecast): 1500
- Number of speakers: 70
- Core organisers: 9
- Volunteers working over the SCALE week-end: 45
- SCALE-related emails received (and answered) by one of the organisers: 5800
About five years ago, it was clear to me that personal computers would disappear... in our pockets. Along many other analysts, I could see computers getting smaller and smaller, and mobile phones getting busier and busier. Eventually, my dream-prediction said, it wouldn't quite be "one computer on every desk" but a much more exciting "one computer in every pocket, and one monitor/keyboard paid on every desk".
We are getting there, and yet again GNU/Linux is missing that train.
The free and open source software community has witnessed, over and over again, how far a visit to the right government officials can go. Bill Gates seems to know the game, and what cards he should play in every occasion to "make things happen".
Over the last few years, it was apparent to us that making good software and creating good standards was just not enough to fight such a strong political presence. How could the free and open source world fight this?
Here is the proposal, in a nutshell (for the lazy readers): creating a fund aimed at informing government officials and prime ministers in the world about free software, and making sure that they receive similar benefits as they would if they chose to push for a Microsoft contract.
One of the reasons free operating systems are so great is because of their bug reporting features. Ubuntu is no exception. Like most other GNU/Linux operating systems, Ubuntu allows users to file bug reports using its bug reporting site, Launchpad. In the free software world, each user becomes a potential beta tester and gets the chance to contribute to the community without ever coding or writing documentation. Unfortunately, Launchpad's bug reporting tool often scares away users who have no idea what a ticket, project, or distribution is.
To continue my look at how non-profits and the free software community can engage, I've decided to look at some popular free software products and see how well they fit the need of an average charity--namely my employer. I'll start with OpenOffice.org.
Over the last few years, I've come to accept the fact that regardless of my attempts to quit this job, I am fundamentally a programmer. I wrote a book about security, I am the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine, but in the end I am still just a programmer. A lucky one, I must admit.
The word is finally out. It was just a suspicion about a month ago, but it was finally, sadly, confirmed.
The OpenWengo project ceased to exist last November, and all the developers have been laid off. You may want to read the whole thread and see how much sadness there is amongst the developers and the community. All of the developers have to find other jobs, while we, the community, have to find some good alternative VoIP & IM software.
And it's going to be hard.
Free software (eventually) works better than proprietary software; why?
Making dramatic statements always implies a need to "back" them (or "prove" them) with facts, data, statistics. However, a statement like "Free software works better than proprietary software" is so broad, anybody can prove it and disprove it at will. It depends on which angle you take, which area, and what your comparison terms are. However, I would like to add an important keyword to that sentence: "Free software works better than proprietary software". That easily-missed word shyly hiding in brackets makes all the difference.
I'm the increasingly discontent owner of an Hotmail account (don't laugh, I subscribed back when Hotmail wasn't owned by Microsoft). Recently, in order to compete with Google on the Web, Hotmail's interface was overhauled: it now has a "classic" interface, which works reasonably well but is still rather limited, and a supposedly "Full" interface that should make it the equal of sites like Google Apps and Yahoo Mail/Calendar/etc.
Many moons ago I tried using Windows for a week to see how the other half live. Despite my thorough openness and fairness, I still got criticized! (Well, it wouldn’t be the free software community if people didn't, I suppose!) So, when I needed I new PC I decided to take the plunge and buy one. For the first time ever I bought a PC from a shop, instead of building it myself. Consequently, it came with Vista pre-installed. So I decided to spend a week with it to see what had changed...