This entry is first a plea for help. I enjoy reading and listening to interviews with people who have interesting and exciting things to say about their passions. My attention was recently directed to a web site named Questions Please..., where Jonathan Roberts informs us he has an inside line to free software luminaries Richard Stallman, Jeremy Allison, and Jeff Waugh. So what is my plea?
As a former founder/CEO of a paranoid technology company developingproprietary enterprise software, one would think "free" software and Iwouldn't mix any better than wax and water. After fighting lawsuits torecover my "stolen" software, the idea of ownership is etched into mypsyche. Hence the paranoia in my company... NDAs, trade secrets andpatent interests. The business models around giving software away havemade me confused. Funny though what time spent curled up withfreesoftware magazine will do. I have recently become a strong convertand advocate for the free software movement.
There are really two bazaars that fire the boilers for free software: one dominated by talented amateurs who create for love; the other, by professionals who create for money. This creates a curious bi-modal nature to the free software/open source community: there's always a certain amount of tension between the schedule-driven bottom-line interest of commercial entities like Novell, Red Hat, or even Canonical and individual hobbyist developers.
A few months back on Kairosnews, we had a long discussion with Michael Bruton, a representative of Turnitin, a commercial "plagiarism detection and prevention service." In short, the question was whether it was ethical for teachers to use the service, since it involves uploading students' essays into turnitin.com's database, where they will ostensibly be encrypted and then used to guard against their being used illicitly in the future.
Attempts to educate and evangelise to people about the benefits of free software are often frustrasted by the common perception that free software is made 'by geeks, for geeks' and is therefore of limited interest to a less 'technical' audience.
In the Debian project they refer to packages that no longer have mantainers as orphaned. I think it's a good definition, and I'd extend it to free software packages that are no longer developed.
There are a lot of orphaned packages around, some actually deserve it but unfortunately there are also some that are promising or very good, and now they are almost dead. But, since we are talking about free software, every good developer is encouraged to pick one and try to push it a bit further
You know how when people win awards, like an Oscar for example, they get up there and gush things like “I’d just like to thank my parents, and the academy, and my fifth grade drama teacher, and God for this award, omigod!!!”? Well, if I was put in a position today where I was going to have to gush on stage about, say, my computer use, then I know what I would say. There I would be, staring into the sea of admiring faces, and I would gush: “I would just like to thank my PC, the internet, and Microsoft... because as a Linux user I have naturally been complicit in intellectual property infringement and therefore owe Microsoft a good deal of money. Thanks baby, couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, and the cheque’s in the mail.”
Or that’s what Steve Ballmer reckons I should say, anyway.
Since last November, I've been missing from these pages because I've been spending the Australian summer out in the Back of Beyond.
You can get wireless broadband operating out here, but I couldn't afford the setup costs this summer.
I discovered Virtualdub back in the days when DivX was a ripped-off Microsoft experimental beta codec. Since then, I have used it to do some small captures, but also to recover some bad quality films that could gain major improvement through a carefully weighted application of filters.
Free software isn’t found on *NIX systems alone
The useful free software you can’t do without
As we prepared to open a new Freedom Technology Center in a rehabilitated site in New Jersey, I came to learn that Verizon was capable of offering fiber service at our location. Officially, they only claim to support those using Microsoft Windows and Mac OS/X with their service. In fact, with a little foreknowledge, you can have installed, activated, and use your FiOS service with an entirely free operating system such as GNU/Linux.
Today marks the rebirth of Java. Sun has announced their intent to release thesource code for Java under the GPL. If this isn't some of the bestnews in a long time, I don't know what is.
The freeing of Java
Sun isn't releasing all of the code. It seems there are partsof Java Sun doesn't own, and for which Sun hasn't been able tonegotiate releasing under the GPL. But, it appears this is a tiny bitof the code.
I live in France. Yeah, I’m French. And while you may not know about it, we have both wonderful and damn annoying technologies at our disposal—like free, quite widespread digital TV broadcast. And here’s how I tried to save a few bucks.
I’ve seen many comments on the Microsoft-Novell affair, like Tony’s very good one. Some more will appear in the next few days, I suppose. I’ll take a little space to say a few words about it.
I’ve read about an alliance in the interest of customers... wow! THAT would be a scoop by itself, and a completely new thing for Microsoft. Or can you think of something they did that wasn’t in only their interest? It’s business? Ok, but let’s play it fair then: I know that marketing rules don’t allow anyone to say straight “I am just trying to get more money, you know?”, but you are not compelled to tell lies; if you can’t tell the truth just shut your mouth and don’t try to make fun of us.
For those who don't interact with the business world, there are a classification of middle management assistants called the 'business analyst'. These analysts help middle management hobble along, either directly or through some widely read newspaper or magazine or website by telling bosses what the future of their industry is. They are our enemy.
They predict the future through a combination of careful wording, stating the obvious in an interesting way, voodoo magic, and rubber chickens. Most people don't take stock into what most business analysts say, but the atypical pointy haired boss will buy right into what they say.
It's entirely possible that Novell is about to get fleeced, and that GNU/Linux will take a hit in the process, and Microsoft has a history of playing the Big Bad. But are we really being smart to always assume that Microsoft will win every battle it enters?
Novell lawyers pulled some fairly smooth legal judo against SCO only a few months ago. I think it might be a little early to call a winner. Eben Moglen and some other observers have noted the peculiar and difficult to predict consequences of the kind of deal that is being reported.
I'm guessing many FSM readers will recognize the title reference, if like me you're a fan of Neal Stephenson's work. If you're not a fan, then... er... how could you not be?! I'm kidding. I realize tastes differ, but to me, Stephenson is essential geek reading.
His essay, In the Beginning was the Command Line, has been around for several years now. It's showing some age in areas, but it reads as well today as it did back in 1999. It's filled with interesting ideas and thoughts about technology and culture, including free software. For example, you don't have to read very far in to the essay to find a great analogy between operating systems and car dealerships.
Some time ago I posted Just a thought: free distributed search?, suggesting that maybe relying on the centralized approach of search engine companies like Google was unwise, and that some kind of decentralized approach could work better for searching. Recently, I was directed to an actual attempt to implement this kind of strategy called Majestic-12. It's a UK-based project which applies the distributed computing model made famous by SETI@home to the problem. Isn't that amazing?
Microsoft has always had excellent timing. They know when to announce a product; they know when to begin grass-roots movements to build hype for a product; they know when to create an alliance; they know when to break an alliance. They have missed some marks, that's true. They almost missed the internet boat, but were able to quickly recover with the licensing of Spyglass, Inc's browser. Microsoft's best timing, though, has always been when and where to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
And that brings us to Novell.
Like most people around the world, I have to work to earn a living. And again, like the vast majority of these people, often my work requires me to carry out tasks that I might otherwise find ethically problematic. As a supporter of free culture, I have often found it difficult to reconcile my own convictions on issues such as copyright and DRM with those of my employers. In my current job, this has not been a regular problem.
While gNewSense enjoys its initial introduction as a fully free as in freedom distribution, it seems at the same time an existing GNU/Linux distribution has turned to slavery. Excuse me a moment, while I remove the metaphorical knife from my back before continuing. Never before has the contrast between software freedom and intellectual slavery been more clear thanks to the proud efforts of gNewSense, and the craven ones of Novell.