FOSDEM - a geek trip to Brussels. Going abroad to experience different cultures. Or at least, a chance to eat chips, suffer rain, and watch American TV in a different country.
I have been talking about the convergence of telephony and desktop computing for years. Nowadays, more and more companies are announcing small devices ("netbooks") that will run Android -- and we are not talking about phones here. Is this the beginning of a new revolution? Or maybe not?
This post is in response to Dario Borghino's story, "Why Open Source is not Free Software". Go read that first...
I have a couple problems with this post. First of all, there is much less difference between free and open source software than this post suggest. Secondly, patents do not have much effect on the software industry, in practice. Those may sound controversial, but let me explain.
If you have ever read any of the articles I have written on Free Software Magazine you might just have noticed that my opinion of politicians is lower than a limbo dancer's pole. A brief brush with political activism many years ago left me with a deep and visceral distrust and dislike of everything political and a determination never to become entangled with politics ever again. So, I was not exactly impressed when I read that George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor of the British Conservative Party, had recently advocated the adoption of "open source" in government IT contracts to reduce costs. Sounds wonderful doesn't it? But it isn't and here's why.
Let me issue a disclaimer right off. Before I ever typed my first GNU/Linux command in a terminal the Free Software Foundation was fighting the good fight for free software and all the issues surrounding individual freedom and privacy both on and offline. All of us owe it a debt of gratitude for the work is has done and continues to do on behalf of the principles of a free society and free computing.
Politicians in general are not terribly tech-savvy, let alone conscious of the most important intellectual freedom issues, but President Barack Obama does have a reputation of being more aware than most of the new media and new possibilities of the internet. The new US presidential website shows some promise that indeed, we now have a US president who isn't afraid of the future.
This time, Microsoft may have outdone themselves with a proposed patent of such breathtaking hubris that it makes their previous FUD pale by comparison. If it comes off it will either be a licence to print money (Redmond's version of Quantitative easing?) or the biggest Pyrrhic victory in the history of computing since Steve Jobs refused Bill Gates and hardware vendors a licence to use Apple's OS and software.
When you first read about Microsoft's proposed patent you are suffused with the glow of righteous anger but before you get carried away, stop. Stop and think. This patent might just be, to mix my metaphors, a Trojan Horse and the straw that breaks the Camels' back. Windows users seem to possess a high pain tolerance (I only lasted until Windows ME before I broke and confessed to anything and everything) but this just might tip some of them over the edge. As homeless refugees they could be receptive to seeking asylum in the Republic of Unixland. Let's find out why.
I was window shopping in a high street electronics store a few days ago. I was delighted to see a shelf display full of netbooks from vendors like Samsung, Acer, Dell, Advent and Asus (of course), to name a few. It looked like the Asus EeePC had launched an idea whose time had come and in the process possibly heralded the long withdrawing roar of the live CD. I now knew how General Adolf Galland felt during the Battle of Berlin when he recorded that when he saw Allied fighters escorting the bombers all the way to the target and back he knew the war was over.
So here we are, entering another year -- and no doubt at some point during this year, more than one person will declare it the "year of the Linux desktop". Of course it won't happen and those who consider themselves free software opponents will soon let us know. Some things will never change. That said, is there any reason to suspect it might be different this year? Is it possible that the current economic climate is better placed to generate a significant growth in free desktops? Can the cloud of economic gloom have a silver lining for free software?
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety (Benjamin Franklin)
All manner of campaigns have been tried to persuade Windows users to make the switch to GNU/Linux and every year is heralded as the year of GNU/Linux on the desktop. Whether these things come to pass or not only time will tell, but the latest electronic assault on the integrity of computers which emanates from the British Government via a European directive might just tilt the balance in favour of free and open software. I suspect however that the hard-core Redmondnites will blunder on as usual making the internet a gold mine for any individual, corporation or government maliciously inclined to steal or plant information your computer. So, what exactly is warrantless intrusion?
Free software advocacy is something I do -- both for a living and as a hobby. Over the years I've gleaned a few best practice tips and I thought I'd pass them on. They may not all work or even be applicable in your case, but I have found then all useful at some time or other. They are in no particular order and in my opinion carry equal amounts of weight.
Microsoft's recent multi-million dollar advertising campaign has been driving me nuts. Suddenly splashed across my TV screen is some clueless person claiming "I'm a PC". No where during the advert is any actual software or hardware shown - somewhat reminiscent of the old OS/2 adverts...
Its an attempt to define freedom in a general way and why freedom is very essential. Visit:- http://ithinkless.blogspot.com/2008/07/when-do-we-actually-define-freedom.html
A recent attack piece against Richard Stallman was written by Linus Torvalds on the eve of Obama's election.
Black and white by Linus Torvalds
Linus begins with this:
So I'm pretty well-known for not exactly being a huge fan of the FSF and Richard Stallman, despite the fact that I obviously love the GPLv2 and use it as the license for all my projects that I care about.
In my opinion, choosing between proprietary and free licensing is actually choosing between short term and long term goals. If one needs something that works in a business meeting in an hour and if her/his expertise with free licensed products is slim then one is likely to choose what s/he knows "it works" and that includes proprietary software.
For someone to truly switch to "free as in freedom" software they need to set long term goals for it. Let me expand this idea a little bit.
A recent article caught my eye and turned it a nice shade of red. It discussed the -- hardly new -- idea that the future of software usage must involve a mixture of free and proprietary products -- something the writer refers to as "mixed source". The piece was entitled "Mixed source - the best of both worlds" which may give you a clue as to where I disagree with it.
The article was an opinion piece by Steve Harris, senior director for open source products at Novell in issue 78 of Linux User & Developer magazine. Sadly it's not yet available on-line and I don't honestly know if it will be. If it is I'll post a comment with a link here so you can read it for yourself.
A little while ago, while talking in the #drupal mailing list, I showed my latest creation to one of the core developers there. His reaction was "Wow, I am always surprised what people use Drupal for". His surprise is somehow justified: I did create a site for a bunch of entertainers in Perth, a company set to use Drupal to take over the world with Entertainers.Biz.
Update: since writing this article, I have updated the system so that the whole booking process happens online. I will update the article accordingly!
So, you've heard about Google's free software release of its Gadgets server, and the new "Open Social API". And gosh, wouldn't it be nice if you could provide this technology to your users with your favorite free software Content Management System (CMS)? Since the documentation that comes bundled with Google's release will probably give you simultaneous whiplash and vertigo (with a large side of frustration), here's a breakdown of the problem so you'll know what you're up against, how to go about solving the problem, and plenty of free software resources to help you get there.
I don't know how many of you saw this blog, about a letter left by a retiring hedge fund manager, with the delicious title of "Goodbye and F--- You". It is a interesting read in a number of ways. Of particular interest to this community is his suggestion that a worldwide forum, based on the structures used by the Free Software movement, be set up to construct a new system of government.
Regular readers of this column will know that I'm a fan of education and positive experience as an advocacy tool in place of shouting from rooftops. Winning the mindset of an average computer user -- particularly home users -- is never going to be a quick process but a recent experience showed me we still have some old and familiar hills to climb. How do we combat legacy reputations of GNU/Linux that are no longer valid?