It’s no secret that I love free software; you don’t decide to start a magazine about it and stick with it for years unpaid if you don’t. While making Free Software Magazine, I learned a lot about free software and its ecology. What I discovered was sometimes exciting, sometimes disheartening.
There has been a lot of hoo-hah recently regarding the pros and cons of certain aspects of the drafts of Version 3 of the GNU General Public License from the Free Software Foundation. The originator of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds himself, is playing a role here. Unfortunately, each side has taken to the ploy of misrepresenting the other’s points. Arguments are getting heated to such an extent that you need to wear an asbestos suit just to look at the issues. However, on examination, not only do I find that both sides have valid issues but I also believe an obvious solution exists that will make most, if not all, satisfied and the world a less flame-ridden obstacle course.
I am sure a lot of you remember the great "GIF fiasco": more than a decade ago, Unisys decided to make money out of the most used image file format on the Internet: the GIF format. To be more precise, Unisys announced that they would go after developers of programs able to load and save GIF files (never mind the fact that even back then there was plenty of free software which wouldn't have been able to pay).
Robin Miller recently published a story on Newsforge about "Stan", as an example of a situation that demonstrates proprietary software is a danger to business continuity. I found this story interesting since I think Mr. Miller came close to correctly identifying a core issue, which is that the proprietary software business model as it exists today both facilitates and encourages vendors to act in bad faith. However, it did not need to have been this way, and really comes down to misuse of licensing along with some deliberate abuse and exploitation of existing commercial law.
No, not Winnie-the-Pooh's friend, but that computer I mentioned last week. Do you feel cheated? Maybe you were expecting a murder mystery instead? Although doesn't Eeyore the donkey seem more like the died-of-natural-causes type? Let me briefly eulogize Eeyore the computer before wandering erratically to a new subject: copyright control.
Eeyore-the-computer is dead
Singularity of the soul and the myth of consciousness
Okay, I've laid a bit of groundwork for this with my last few blogs, and now I'm going to talk about something they do say you never should: my religion. It's not something I talk about much, and indeed, I'm probably known for avoiding the subject. That's because it tends to be a sticky and involved conversation if I address it fairly. Curiously, this does actually have consequences for free software. Richard Stallman likes to talk about the ethical reasons for writing it; Eric Raymond likes to talk about the pragmatic reasons; but here I intend to address a spiritual reason for doing so.
Okay kids, gather ’round, I’m going to reminisce. When I was about six, I had what is classed as well developed literacy skills—I could write some words, I could read books about Jenny and Jack on the swing, that sort of thing. My parents bought a mac and we thought we were the height of sophistication. (That was in 1986, BTW.) But to me, it was like a magic box that was used on special occasions, and it was a grownup thing. I mean, I only used the phone on special occasions!
Time to get on with the move. Giving up Windows is like kicking a drug habit. It’s easier to take the path of least resistance and keep using. If quitting proprietary software was a twelve step program—although, let’s not push the analogy too far—maybe after admitting we were powerless over our proprietary programs, coming to believe that a Higher Power could restore us to Freedom, and so on and so forth, maybe we’d...
I finally began learning python. I wrote my last program in the 80s in Apple Basic, and here I am again starting to learn a new language. I can already guess what my biggest problem will be. I am incredibly impatient. How can I learn to program when I refuse to read the documentation all the way through? Will I succeed in writing a program or am I doomed to give up? No need worrying about it. I type python on the command-line, and start.
Freedom. It’s such a loaded term. It represents so many things: the ability to do stuff unfettered, letting the press say whatever they want, invading foreign nations to pass the time, a glorious ideal. I started thinking about it recently because there’s a furniture chain in Australia called “Freedom” and I always get a kick out of signs in shopping centres with arrows that direct shoppers to the food court, toilets, and freedom... “Free” also means lots of things. Free as in libre... Free as in beer... Interestingly enough, they aren’t as different as you might think! In fact, there is a new kind of beer sweeping Denmark, and it is like free software BUT BEER! How fun!
For the last couple of months I’ve been on a mammoth trip to the east, or east as far as my home in the UK is concerned, to relatives in Malaysia. As they live in the more rural areas of the country, internet connectivity was not as good as I’m accustomed to and was quite unreliable. So, therefore, I wasn’t able to keep my blog as up-to-date as I would have liked. That’s my excuse anyway, and it sounds so much better than “I was having such a great time I simply let things slip”.
There are lots of things that worry tabloids, current affairs programs, and talkback radio shock jocks. Some of these things are immigration, neighbours from hell, love-rat rip-off merchants, termites, crash diets, dole-bludging playstation addicts, the utter degeneration of civilisation as we know it BEFORE OUR VERY EYES... the list goes on. But one of the perpetual flavours of the month for these harbingers of doom and global devastation is the future of our children.
My children recently started school. I wanted a way for them to be ableto chat with their friends, get help with homework, and generally have funon the Internet without exposing them to the world at large. So, I did whatany extremely geeky dad would do: I built a secured instant messaging (IM)server for their school.
I could have set my children up with any number of accounts on thenormal, commercial services. However, I decided to create my own forseveral reasons.
A few years ago, when you wanted to use a GNU/Linux distribution for your desktop computer, you still needed to concede a part of your freedom to open some PDF files, run most Java programs, or all Flash animations.
Now that the new versions of Ghostscript are available under the free software GPL license other projects relying on Ghostscript can be fully GPL software as well. One of these projects, PDFCreator, I recently tested and I must admit I'm impressed.
PDFCreator allows you to make a PDF of anything you can print, documents, spreadsheet, presentations, anything with a print function. PDFCreator even has encryption and security features that would make it perfect for a corporate environment.
What is free software? Should you care and if so, why and what does it have to do with cakes and my mother?
My mother and computers
Last week I mentioned my decision to learn Python and write a free software program. I found some cool online tutorials. I found my Learning Python book, and I was ready to begin. So like many a programmer I sat down in my chair, opened my books... and watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" instead.
At the very beginning of the “commercial internet” era, around 1995, the internet was all about communities. Mailing lists and Usenets were crucial tools which allowed people with similar interests (and similar problems!) to hang out together in what was considered a fantastic virtual square.
Then, shops started showing up in this square, and... well, its inhabitants got a little distracted.
My younger son likes tractors; big machines and anything that can lift large objects up and throw them great distances. You know the sort of thing, The Hulk, Superman, Terminator III, my wife and sometimes my boss. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that I spend time sitting behind this computer trawling archive.org, an excellent repository of historical content for the correct media to present.
Last week I wrote about using GNU/Linux, and justified why I use it. But, as I confessed, the main reason I started using it wasn't because I'm a rigorous political activist with a go-get-em attitude. I'm Australian, people! America might be the land of the brave, down here we're the land of the apathetic... Anyway, I started using GNU/Linux because it was put in front of me and my old system was taken away. And I could get all embarassed about the beginnings of something I am now a firm believer in, but then I ask myself, does the means justify the end? Does in really matter how and under what circumstances I became involved as long as I'm here now? Does it matter if I'm using it because it's cheap, or because it's better, or because I like the politics? What if I don't give two hoots about the politics? Is there a good way and a bad way to use FLOSS?