Opinions

Opinions

Wikileaks: Whistle-blowing, Censorship, Persecution, Retribution, Transparency, and the Future of Freedom on the Internet

In the end, whether you like what Wikileaks has been doing lately or not, your freedom and mine hangs direly on defending its right to do it. Powerful people have been embarrassed, and have claimed the right and necessity to 'do something about it' -- yet curiously they have not even attempted to deny that what has been said is in fact the truth. Indeed, their most solid defense so far has been to claim that what Wikileaks does "isn't journalism", because it only provides access to the raw, unadulterated, unspun truth. It's a pretty sick state of affairs when the wealthy and powerful can try to convince the masses that an organization should be crushed for committing the crime of telling the truth about them -- and be taken seriously.

The OpenPC project: Ready-made GNU/Linux Machines

The Open Desktop communities Open-PC project is now offering three different models of open computers with turn-key GNU/Linux and KDE installations based on OpenSUSE (or Ubuntu). These systems could provide real competition with pre-installed Windows or Mac computers, overcoming some of the most frequently-cited problems with GNU/Linux on the desktop. The systems are now available from vendors in Europe and the USA.

Post-Christmas Review: Tech Toys and GNU/Linux Compatibility

Well, Christmas 2010 is over, and all the little tech toy devices have been connected, installed, and played with (or returned to the store from whence they came if they didn't clear those hurdles). This year was an amazing success. Three major computer-linked devices worked on the first try without a hiccup. And I have to at least say a word or two about Mattel's new Computer Engineer Barbie -- a purchase I must admit was a little silly, but my daughter does play with it.

Pirate Bay, Decentralised P2P-DNS, ICANN and the law of Unintended Consequences

I've always been a great fan of the law of unintended consequences. It takes you places. Unexpected places. Sometimes good, sometimes bad but never a dull moment. The recent kerfuffle over Pirate Bay is too well known to require detailed recounting here. What is really interesting though is where it might just eventually take us in terms of internet freedom. This article describes the one fallout of the legal judgements against Pirate Bay and how its response may unintentionally help to protect and promote internet freedoms.

Artists should be paid, Part 3: The Big Picture

Can artists actually make money on a free software driven free culture project? Having established the motivations and the basic principles in the first two parts, I'm going to look at the big picture here: how money would be distributed among major parts of the project (drawing partly on knowledge accumulated from the proprietary film and television industry -- taking into account the differences), where the money would come from, and what sort of income might be realistic based on the few projects that have gone before us.

Ubuntu embraces Unity and Wayland. Or, GNU/Linux is exciting again

After installing Ubuntu 10.10, I had a strange feeling I was seeing something that was already old. Yes, Ubuntu is a fantastic desktop system, and yes it's better than Windows. But today, in 2010, that's almost a given. And that's not enough. The IT world is changing, and PCs themselves as a whole are getting old. The mass is moving towards tablets, mobiles machines, and netbooks. Ubuntu, the way it is today, might be the best choice in a dinosaur world. I can't read Mark Shuttleworth's mind, but I can only guess this is exactly what he felt when he decided to switch to Unity (for the UI) and Wayland (for the graphics architecture). Let me explain what all of this means.

Confusion and Complexity: High time to prune the Creative Commons licenses?

In a recent blog, Nina Paley, the animator behind the free-licensed animated film, "Sita Sings the Blues", complained of the enormous confusion caused by poor differentiation of the Creative Commons licenses. In particular, there's a great deal of confusion over the difference between "NonCommercial" and "ShareAlike" licenses. Maybe the Creative Commons licensing system is still too complex? I'd suggest that only three licenses are really needed: "Attribution" (CC By), "ShareAlike" (CC By-SA), and "NonCommercial" (CC By-NC), and that the others are essentially deadweight that's holding the movement back.

Microsoft: Novell is toast and the patent Juggernaut rolls on

The end of 2010 has been interesting. Mass defections from Oracle's OpenOffice team and the software is ported as LibreOffice. Then Mark Shuttleworth announces that Wayland is in, Xorg is out and Unity will be the next Ubuntu desktop. I was just getting my head around all that when the newswires started humming again with the news that Novell had been sold. I experienced a strong sense of deja vu and began to wonder if this was going to be a reprise of Sun's sale to Oracle and the forking of OpenOffice, one of the crown jewels of GNU/Linux.

The Wave phoenix is set to rise

As you may know I was quite keen on the ideas and potential of Google's Wave project and like many thought it a bit of a shame when they closed the project. When the creator of Wave Lars Rasmussen left Google for Facbook, Wave seemed finished before it had started. At the time they pulled the plug Google said the project would live on but details were scratchy. Now we know more and the good news is that in yet another kudos point for free software and the development models around it, Wave will rise again and this time maybe even stronger but certainly with greater freedom.

Google Chrome OS and Android: arranging a difficult marriage

There has been a lot of talking, lately, about Google's Chrome OS. People didn't take it too seriously initially; then, last week, Google started sending out demo netbooks which ran -- hear hear -- Google Chrome OS. Google Chrome OS is based on Google's browser, Chrome -- hence the name. The idea is that all you run on your laptop is your browser -- that's it. But this raises a lot of questions. In this article I propose a possibly interesting solution to Google's issues, and how a possible (and not-so-painful) merge with Android should be possible.

Google Chromium, Chromeplus and Iron Browser: Why Source code and Distribution Models Matter

The internet has been awash with the fallout from Oracle's stewardship of OpenOffice.org and Ubuntu's announcement that Xorg would be replaced by Wayland and Unity would be the next desktop. The F-word was used. A lot. No, not that F-word. The other F-word. Forking. OpenOffice.org has already forked to LibreOffice and I've no doubt that Unity haters will fork off to Gnome Shell 3. Fair enough. It's all about choice in the end and choice creates competition and competition often creates innovation and cross fertilization (as well as fragmentation).

Facebook and Social networking: Tim Berners-Lee closes the stable door after the horse has bolted

Since I started using computers and since I abandoned the choppy waters of Windows for the safe harbour of FOSS, the internet has experienced huge change and rapid growth. Better web browsers, file sharing, iPhones, iPads and other touch screen tablets too. The one thing that has not changed much though is that GNU/Linux always seems to breast the tape second. It seems fated to forever be behind the curve. I can live with that as long as I'm using my software my way. Free and open. However, that has implications for freedom and privacy that I don't like living with--and neither does Tim Berners-Lee. Specifically, he has been venting about those very things in respect of social networks and how they threaten that freedom and privacy.

Artists should be paid, Part 2: What's "fair"?

Having established the motivations for fair payment on a "commercial free culture project" in the previous column, I'm still left with the question of what exactly "fair" means. The problem is that there's more than one way to determine fair shares on a project like this. The organization is necessarily loose, and so there's no really clear and unambiguous way to determine fairness. Nevertheless, some plan has to be chosen, and in a way that is at least defensible.

Pay Per Patch: A Free Software Market Model

Free software can be viewed as sort of a public good — everyone can benefit from it. Instead of paying for complete applications, buyers may wish to only pay for specific program elements they want, which the software lacks. Therein lies an opportunity to make money on free software, instead of around it.

Have Oracle just made it worse for everyone?

I guess everybody has heard that a majority of the key developers in the OpenOffice.org community decided to set up the Document Foundation: an independent foundation to continue and manage work on the Openoffice.org codebase. If you've not, then I can recommend Terry Hancock's piece as a starting point (and a good summary of why forking is vital). To recap: Oracle are not behind the move so the foundation temporarily named their product LibreOffice. It was not, we were told, a fork. Oracle were invited to the party and asked if they would consider donating the OpenOffice.org brand to the foundation. After the mess with MySQL, here was an opportunity for Oracle to vastly improve relations with the free software community and their own reputation. In short Oracle missed their chance like an English footballer taking a penalty.

Artists should be paid, Part 1: Why Creator Endorsed sales promote fair sharing

I've been trying to zip together what I know about free online collaborative projects (like free software) and commercial free culture projects (like the just-released "Sintel" from the Blender Foundation or "Sita Sings the Blues" from Nina Paley). It's easy to get lost in the logistics of such a production. One of the questions I'm bound to be asked is "How do I know I'm going to get paid?" Artists have a strong fear against being "exploited", though they're often less clear on exactly what that means. A little bit of examination, though, shows this may be a strength of the "Creator Endorsed" free culture approach to marketing a work -- it makes fair payment a matter of personal financial interest to the publisher, as I hope to explain here.

Saving Identica and StatusNet?

There is a significant spam problem on Identi.ca, and it looks like some fresh ideas are needed to crush it. Here are mine, and a few ideas that I like from other people.

Identi.ca is the open microblogging site based on the StatusNet software. It's a fantastic service, with features that leave Twitter in the dust. But spammers are not being caught and banned quickly. Users are becoming frustrated.

OpenOffice.org is Dead, Long Live LibreOffice -- or, The Freedom to Fork

One of the most controversial freedoms of free software is the right to simply take the code and go make your own competing project -- what is popularly called a "fork". It's controversial because it seems like a betrayal of the original developer; because it distributes resources into competing groups, which may waste effort; and because it may create confusion in the marketplace of ideas that is free software distribution. But it is a critical freedom to have, and the recent fork of LibreOffice from OpenOffice.org, like the fork of X.org from Xfree86 years ago, shows why it's so important.

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