Opinions

Opinions

Fighting the "legacy" reputations of GNU/Linux, seventeen years later

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 How do we combat legacy reputations of GNU/Linux that are no longer valid?

Free software tools for designing productive community sites

These days there's a lot of buzz about "Web 2.0" and making websites more interactive, but what's really going on is a reconnection to the community nature of the internet. Collaboration, cooperation, and the information commons are all ideas that pre-dated the world wide web in the form of older internet technologies. In today's distributed computing environment, though, these technologies have really flourished. Here's a guide to eight that you should consider making use of in building a community around an information commons project of any kind, from multimedia, to hardware, to software.

On-line applications "just work"; why worry about the freedom of the licence?

An increasing number of computer users are turning to online applications instead of ones on their desktop. It started with webmail and has moved to productivity/office tools. With the emergence of online applications that have no desktop equivalent, and mobile devices that are browsers in your pocket, things are looking up. But what about free software? If the software we are using is not run on the computer on our desk/lap/hand what does the licence matter? For some time now I've been reading predictions where the browser will be the computer. Does this future have space for free software?

Google's Knol: it's a Wikipedia Jim but not as we know it

The launch of Google's Chrome has created a frenzy of online activity (just Google it and it will return in excess of fifty one million results), including mine. and already the world and his wife has been busy publicising tips, tricks and hacks. There is absolutely no doubt that Google is very serious about its new baby. They hired no less than four Firefox developers--Ben Goodger, Pam Greene, Darin Fisher and Brian Ryner. Enough said. It wasn't dreamed up on the spur of the moment as another speculative product of the Summer of Code. Can the same be said of Knol? What is it, how does it work and more importantly, does it conform with the principles of free software and is it a serious challenger to Wikipedia?

A brief history of computers and free software: where is the money?

The world of computers has changed. Sub-notebooks are becoming immensely popular, mobile phones based on Google's Android software are about to come out (T-Mobile have just announced their G1 will launch on October 22), and computers are looking increasingly like small devices that fit in our pockets. The end of 2008 might see the dawn of a new revolution in the computer industry and in people's lives. Maybe 2009 will be remembered as the year when the "world went mobile". What does this mean for the (free and non-free) software industry? Where will we be, technologically and (more importantly) culturally? Where will the market (and the money) be?

Becoming a free software developer, part V: When and where did you learn?

In my last article I talked about how interest leads people to program. Then life rose up behind me like a giant Doberman pincer and bit me on my backside; so, I didn't think of programming for over four months. However, just this week something happened that made me want to program again.

I was preparing to teach some students how to use dichotomous keys to identify organisms. Suddenly, while I was staring at a simple teaching key for identifying fruit, my eyes glazed over and I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I was looking at the basis of a very simple program.

Ten easy ways to attract women to your free software project

The gender inequality among developers and supporters of free software is stunning. Less than 2% of us are women, according to studies conducted for the European Commission. Why? The evidence says we're driving them away. There are even some pretty good published guidelines on how not to drive them away. What's missing is a practical implementation strategy: here I present ten relatively simple changes in how you run your project, to make it more attractive to would-be contributors—especially women.

Why I choose copyleft for my projects

Terry Hancock seemed to raise a few hackles when he presented case recently that "copyleft has no impact on project activity?!)". I'm not certain why, because it seemed he was just asking a question really (you'll note the question mark). In that piece he mentions the reasons developers choose a copyleft licence. As a -- somewhat small-time -- developer of free software this topic interests me. Terry made a few statements about why developers choose a copyleft licence as did Tony Mobily in his editorial for issue 20. So let me tell you why this developer chose (and continues to choose) a copyleft licence?

Deploying CC+ for the common good: Buy4Commons

This year, Creative Commons unveiled a new initiative called "CC+". It is not a license. It's a "protocol", although it's so simple that it almost doesn't warrant the term. Basically it specifies a standardized mechanism to sell further rights for works under Creative Commons licenses. One application of this technology could be to enable "collective patronage" models like the one that brought us the Blender free movies to be extended to a much larger pool of Creative Commons licensed material.

The Large Hadron Collider switches on. If it's the end of the world, it will be powered by GNU/Linux

You know a science story is big when an experiment gets first or second billing on the main evening news--and it's not even a slow news day. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is up and running as I write and as far as I can tell I'm still here, so it looks like the doomsayers were a little premature. Unless I'm writing this piece from the far side of the singularity of a black hole in a parallel universe.

The LHC is an huge experiment (a snip at $10 billion) to explore the very small and very energetic sub-atomic world to verify, amongst other things, if the Higgs Boson really exists. That will be a monumental triumph for science and the human spirit. I have always been fascinated by particle physics, despite by academic background in the Humanities and I will be following the progress at CERN with great interest. I am particularly pleased too because free software will be at the heart of this colossal human endeavour. GNU/Linux has been, is and will continue to power CERN's efforts. This is a wonderful opportunity to tell the world that Windows doesn't rule the roost.

Linux: has the horse bolted?

Richard Stallman wants to popularise the term GNU/Linux instead of using the currently popular term Linux. He correctly states that the term Linux, besides being thoroughly inaccurate, totally fails to introduce new users to the legal and philosophical concepts that underlie the basis of the GNU/Linux OS; but is it feasible to make such a change at this late stage?

Some weeks ago, trolling through prospective articles for Free Software Daily, I encountered a blog, describing the evolution of “Linux”. It was aimed at Newbies. The blog correctly described Linus Torvalds as the creator of the Linux kernel and a few more recent developments, but that was it. No mention was made that Richard Stallman actually created much of what is now called “Linux”, no mention of the GPL, or how it works, no mention of the copyleft legal concept and no mention of other responsibilities placed on users and developers.

All of Richard Stallman's worst fears confirmed in one blog.

Stephen Fry wishes GNU/Linux a happy 25th birthday

I was surprised and delighted to find this video presentation by one of my favorite performers, Stephen Fry, called "Happy Birthday to GNU", on the GNU project homepage.

Posted on September 1st, in honor of GNU's 25th anniversary, it turns out to be only the latest in a series of entries on Mr. Fry's official blog site praising the virtues of free software.

What if copyright didn't apply to binary executables?

By rights, copyright really shouldn't apply to binary executables, because they are purely "functional" (not "expressive") works. The decision to extend copyright to binaries was an economically-motivated anomaly, and that choice has some counter-intuitive and detrimental side-effects. What would things in the free software world look like if the courts had decided otherwise? For one thing, the implementation of copyleft would have to be completely different.

Hypothetical? Academic? Not if you're a hardware developer! Because this is exactly what the law does look like for designs for physical hardware (where the product is not protected by copyright).

An open letter to Barack Obama and the DNC (or, change video formats)

Senator Barack Obama and the Democractic National Convention Committee,

In his campaign speeches, Senator Obama often evokes images of citizen participation in the governmental process. He proclaims that his message of hope is built on the foundation of mutual respect, and the prospect of working together to return the government to the hands of the people.

Is Senator Obama earnest in these rhetorical statements? Or is this simply campaign slogans flung about with feigned sincerity, to be discarded once the US Presidential election is over?

Skegness Grammar School, using GNU/Linux and thin-clients across the school

Garry Saddington is ICT co-ordinator at Skegness Grammar School. It is a specialist sports college and a specialist maths and computing college with nearly 800 pupils, and has a boarding provision for around 60. Alistair Crust is responsible for serving the technology needs of the Skegness Grammar School community. All the school's 180 curriculum computers run GNU/Linux. These run as thin-clients using the Linux Terminal Server Project, which uses low power clients with most of the processing being done on fewer, more powerful, servers.

Being open about "open" (source)

I’m not sure why it bothers me: I use the word "Free" when I’m talking about "Free Software", and "Open" when I mean "Open source". I’m very particular about my words, that way. But that's just me. I don't expect another religion to follow the rules of my own, or vice-versa. So why do I expect others to use words in the same way that I do? And why do I feel so cross about "Open standards", which come with proprietary documentation, a hefty price tag, and an NDA?

How do Drigg and Pligg compare?

I am Drigg's founder and developer. Drigg and Pligg are pieces of software that will allow you to create Digg-like sites. People sometimes ask me if they should pick Drigg or Pligg. When it happens, I am not sure what I should answer. This article will hopefully solve the dilemma for most of them. Please note that I am bound to be biased here. I am an ex-Pligg users, who happened to have the both the need and the skills to create an equivalent product. I would have never forked Pligg had I liked Pligg in the first place. So... well, feel free to tell me what I got wrong with facts -- I will correct this post accordingly.

There and back again: a narrative of OSCON 2008

The Open Source Convention, or OSCON as it's more readily known, is an annual confluence of all things open source that has taken place since 1998. From its origins as an informal get together of Perl aficionados, OSCON is now regarded as the place to go for all things open source.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of OSCON, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of that history.

Is Microsoft trying to kill Apache?

When the story about Microsoft shelling out $100,000 to Apache for ASF sponsorship broke across my radar it rather tickled my funny bone and my curiosity. When ASF Chairman Jim Jagielski declared that "Microsoft's sponsorship makes it clear that Microsoft "gets it" regarding the ASF" I had a fit of the giggles--and then, like many others, I started to ponder on the reasons why and what it actually meant.

Stop the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

I just heard about the proposed ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) over at Free Software Daily and from the Free Software Foundation. Right now the governments of the United States, the European Commission, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, and Mexico are secretly negotiating this new treaty which aims to increase the enforcement of intellectual property laws yet again.

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