30 June 2007

Irving Wladawsky-Berger: And Another Thing

I interviewed Irving Wladawsky-Berger twice: once for Rebel Code, soon after IBM announced its support for GNU/Linux - arguably one of the key moments in the corporate acceptance of open source - and once for the Guardian, shortly before he retired from IBM. On both occasions he was a pleasure to talk to.

And now I find another reason to like the chap:

One of my favorite films is the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet.

Me too, me too.

29 June 2007

Happy Hacking v3

GPLv3 is out.

EU Gets Open Sourcier

The EU is at it again:

An EU-funded consortium will address one of the perceived barriers for the adoption of open source software and prove once and for all that software which is free and publishes its source code, is capable of outperforming anything else on the market. ‘Flossquality.eu’ is an initiative made up of the three EU research projects: QUALOSS, FLOSSMETRICS and SQO-OSS, demonstrating a strong commitment between partners involved in different projects. The intention is that this initiative will facilitate access to information by disseminating news via a joint RSS feed. ‘Flossquality.eu’ will transform the cooperative way of working between these corresponding projects into hard evidence regarding software quality in an open source.

So there we have it - whatever it is. Still, spending all these Euros on something to do with open source must be a good thing. Probably.

E-vote? Ew-vote

Rather belatedly (sorry, ORG) I got round to reading the Open Rights Group report on the e-voting trials in the UK. It's fantastic stuff - well, the report is, at least: its content is pretty frightening.

This paragraph in the Recommendations said it all, really:

ORG’s position is that e-voting and e-counting provide considerable risks to the integrity of our democracy. The risks presented far outweigh any benefits the systems might potentially offer. In practice the systems have proved to be more expensive, less robust, and considerably slower than manual methods, so any potential benefits are not felt. ORG received some comments which suggest that e-voting and e-counting are inevitable and that to oppose these technologies would be a Luddite view. ORG disagrees, and it is telling that a significant proportion of those concerned about voting technologies are computer scientists and professionals, who are usually enthusiastic adopters of new technology.

What's interesting is not just the damning indictment of e-voting that it offers, but the paradox of "enthusiastic adopters of new technology" who are nonetheless "concerned about voting technologies". I count myself as belonging to this schizophrenic group: it seems clear to me that today's e-voting technologies are simply not reliable enough to entrust our democracy to it.

Interestingly, the central problem is openness, or lack of it: if the entire e-voting process could be made totally open and observable, while preserving confidentiality, many of the most worrying problems would go away.

iPlayer Frothing at the Mouth

I've done my fair share of apoplectic frothing over the disgrace that is the BBC iPlayer, but here's a further helping, courtesy of the Guardian Technology blog.

28 June 2007

Plugging in to Asay Power

I met up with Matt Asay (pronounced "ay-see") recently. I learned from this that he's had what amounts to the perfect career in open source business: training as a lawyer (including some work with Larry Lessig), then stints with Lineo (a pioneering embedded Linux company) and Novell (during which time he founded the Open Source Business Conference) before joining Alfresco, an enterprise content management company that is one of a whole new generation of businesses that collectively make up the open source enterprise stack.

My meeting also confirmed something that I had suspected for a while: that he is the most astute commentator on the open source business scene, bar none.

He has a new outlet for these insights in the form of the blog "The Open Road" on C|net (which means, unfortunately, that the URLs are totally opaque), where he is churning out posts at a rate that puts mere professional writers such as myself to shame. To make matters worse, he's come up with a blindingly obvious and brilliant wheeze for both generating lots of interesting copy and also providing what amounts to a grand conspectus of the entire open source business scene: an emailed survey of top CEOs there. Now, why couldn't I have thought of that?

The results are required reading for anyone who wants to understand the state of free software in the world of business today - and where it's going tomorrow. Here's the list of interviews:

Dave Rosenberg, MuleSource

Javier Soltero, Hyperic

Marten Mickos, MySQL

John Powell, Alfresco

Fabrizio Capobianco, Funambol

Boris Kraft, Magnolia

Kelly Herrell, Vyatta

Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra

Ranga Rangachari, Groundwork

Dries Buytaert, Drupal

John Roberts, SugarCRM

Toby Oliver, Path Intelligence

Danny Windham, Digium

Bill Karpovich, Zenoss

Mark Brewer, Covalent

Gianugo Rabellini, Sourcesense

Bob Walter, Untangle

Paul Doscher, JasperSoft

Pete Childers, Zmanda

Rod Johnson, Interface 21

Harold Goldberg, Zend Technologies

Eero Teerikorpi, Continuent

In the Middle of the Road...

Two major themes on this blog are free software and virtual worlds. So I'm grateful to Danté Jones for pointing out LA Second Life, which sits neatly at the intersection of the two:

This site is here so that people can see what the Linux Australia members are doing in-world as well as a resource for Linux users interested in Second Life.

As well as those handy resources, the site also flags up news about the Second Life activities of Linux Australia's members, among whom we find Gizzy Electricteeth, whom I had the pleasure of meeting virtually a few months back.

One issue that the site has just raised concerns SL's new voice feature:

Is being mute better than a voice without freedom?

Linux users of Second Life seeing voice currently being supported in all but their Viewer, are posed with that question.

Reading through a job logged in March in the SL JIRA issue tracker titled 'Support Voice on Linux', two things become clear;

1) Linden Lab have licensed Vivox to provide propriety code for Voice.
2) If they ever do support the Linux viewer it will be with a closed 'binary blob'.

Judging by their past actions, I'd say that Linden Lab would love to get this code fully open and cross-platform, but are taking a pragmatic route towards that. Here's what Linden's CTO Cory Ondrejka told me six months ago:

Certainly, there is the question of proprietary code. We may be able to do exactly what we did on the client side, where we are distributing binaries. In six months, when this [move to open up the client] is successful, it may make for very interesting conversations with folks. We can say: Hey, look, you are the leader in this sector, you should open source, here's why we did it and it worked. And I think the fact that there aren't any proof-points of that is maybe part of what scares companies from doing that. I think we're going to be a very interesting test case.

As well as encouraging other software houses to open up, I get the impression that Linden would also be interested in dropping in open source replacements for proprietary code. Time for Linux Australia to get hacking, perhaps.

27 June 2007

Eclipse Eclipses Itself

As I wrote over a year ago, Eclipse is really open source's best-kept secret. Today, the best got even better:

The Eclipse Foundation today announced the availability of its annual coordinated project release, this year code named Europa. Europa features 21 Eclipse projects for software developers and is more than double the size of last year's record-setting release.

The release consists of more than 17 million lines of code and the contributions of over 310 open source developers located in 19 different countries. The 2006 release, code named Callisto, involved 10 project teams, 7 million lines of code, and 260 open-source developers in 12 countries. This is the fourth year in a row the Eclipse community has shipped a major release on schedule.

Innovations in the Europa release include new runtime technology for creating server applications, developer tools for service-oriented architecture (SOA), tools for improving team collaboration and support for users of the popular Ruby programming language.


BBC's Slap in the Face of Freedom

So the BBC has brought forward its launch of the wretched iPlayer - it wouldn't be that they're trying to pre-empt things, would it?

This is particularly rich:

Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision, said: "This is a significant moment, as it heralds a new era when viewers will have the freedom to watch programmes from the BBC's linear TV channels when they want.

Well, no, darling, not actually: freedom is precisely what it does not offer licence-payers such as myself. It offers only chains - kindly provided by Microsoft, ones of whose boys is joining the BBC (now there's a coincidence).

And not content with that slap in the face of freedom, there's this:

Developing a version for Apple Macs and Microsoft Vista is absolutely on our critical path.

Oh, right, let's make sure every Windows operating system is supported as a priority (don't forget the super-important Windows ME). No point wasting time supporting any of those irrelevant "free" platforms like GNU/Linux now that viewers have the much more important "freedom" to slip on Microsoft's slinky DRM so that they can watch all those groovy "linear TV channels".

Thank goodness for the OSC.

Enclosing the Commons, 21st-Century Style

In an age where commons are rare and exotic beasts, "enclosing the commons" seems quaint rather than troubling. But in the modern context, this is what enclosure means:

Amateur photographer Chip Py was wandering around the newly developed downtown section of Silver Spring when he decided to snap a few pictures. He thought the building rooftops set against the blue sky made for a handsome image. A security guard promptly rushed out to tell him that he was not allowed to take pictures; the Peterson Companies, the developer of Ellsworth Street, prohibited it.

Welcome to the latest enclosure of the commons: privately controlled public streets. Even if streets may be nominally public, companies have few qualms about claiming them as private and bullying people into forfeiting their rights as citizens.

Solving the Open Source Conundrum

As I've written elsewhere, people have realised that there's a bit of a problem with the term "open source". It's becoming too popular: too many people want to stick the "open source" label on their wares without worrying about the details - like whether they conform to the "official" Open Source Definition (OSD).

The real conundrum is this: how can the use of the term "open source" be policed when it has no legal standing, since it is not a trademark. Theoretically, anyone can use it with impunity - for anything. This is obviously a problem for the "real" open source world, which needs to find a way to encourage vendors to use the term responsibly.

Peer pressure is certainly important here, but there may be another factor. In the course of research for a feature, I came across IBM's big patent pledge of January 2005:

IBM today pledged open access to key innovations covered by 500 IBM software patents to individuals and groups working on open source software. IBM believes this is the largest pledge ever of patents of any kind and represents a major shift in the way IBM manages and deploys its intellectual property (IP) portfolio.

Back then, this was mildly interesting, if greeted with a certain cynicism. But today, in the wake of Microsoft's sabre-rattling, patents are much more of an issue for all open source companies, which makes the next paragraph of the IBM announcement particularly pertinent:

The pledge is applicable to any individual, community, or company working on or using software that meets the Open Source Initiative (OSI) definition of open source software now or in the future.

So there we have a major incentive to meet the OSI definition of open source: if you do, IBM will let you use a good wodge of its patents. This means that in the event of patent Armageddon, where IBM and Microsoft slug it out in the courts, you will not only be safe from any direct attacks from IBM, but might even enjoy the indirect halo effect of IBM's patent portfolio.

Although IBM has not exactly guaranteed it would come rushing to the aid of any OSI-approved damsel in distress if it were attacked by the Microsoft dragon, its patent pledge does contain an element of this implicitly. It's certainly easy to see the benefits for IBM of such a move, both in terms of positive publicity and direct competitive advantage. At the very least, Microsoft is likely to think twice about attacking any company that has this kind of patent hook up with Big Blue.

If you don't adopt the OSI approach, though, you're outside the IBM castle, and on your tod when that nice Mr Ballmer comes calling about those patents he claims your company infringes. And since you're not playing nicely with the official OSI crew, don't expect any help from its big corporate chum, IBM.

Now, tell me again why you don't want to go legit with this "open source" label?

26 June 2007

Offiziell: de.wikipedia.org ist Offiziell

Here's an interesting precedent being set:

For the first time, the German edition of the open Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia will be receiving state funding. Germany will be setting aside part of its budget to improve information about renewable resources in Wikipedia. Over the next few years, several hundred articles will be written on this issue.

"A number of key words already have excellent entries in the German Wikipedia" within the field of renewable resources, explains Andreas Schütte. Schütte is the executive director of the Renewable Resources Agency (FNR), which receives funding from the German Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection to conduct research on renewable resources with an eye to launching products on the market. At the same time, Schütte says that a number of key words in the German Wikipedia have very short descriptions, are not up to date, or are missing entirely.

Entries on this topic are to be improved under the direction of the private-sector Nova Institute. The Institute plans to get external experts to write entries on renewable resources for Wikipedia. These experts will first receive training for Wikipedia because collaboration in the community project has its pitfalls. The Institute is therefore looking for someone well versed in Wikipedia to handle project coordination. The project partners have issued a call for tenders for that position. Wikipedia experts can send in their applications immediately.

The benefits of expanding this approach are great. The state gets to distribute useful information, highly efficiently, and helps to ensure its reliability. The users, of course, gain enormously from this new influx of quality contributions.

Even the Wikipedians gain, since in the future there might be the prospect that they could be commissioned by governments to write high-quality articles on particular subjects (but with editorial independence).

And if other governments start following suit, the long-term viability of the entire Wikipedia project - still rather uncertain, at present - will be transformed completely.

All-in-all, this move by the German ministry represents a small but important step towards making Wikipedia into an all-encompassing reference, subsuming both official and unofficial information.

Here Be (Virtual) Dragons

A nice scamper along the virtual horizon has just appeared: the Metaverse Roadmap (MVR).

The MVR has “near-term” anticipation horizon of ten years (to 2017), a “longer-term” speculation horizon of twenty years (to 2025), and a charter to discover early indicators of significant developments ahead.

Nothing staggeringly new, but lots of interesting ideas, well presented. Highly recommended as a guide to the near future of the metaverse. Start planning those virtual hols now.

25 June 2007

Opener Than Thou

What's interesting about the news that LinkedIn is going to "open up" is that it is happening as a direct result of competitive pressure:

He told me that over next 9 months LinkedIn would deliver APIs for developers, ostensibly to make it more of platform like Facebook, and create a way for users who spend more time socially in Facebook to get LlinkedIn notifications.

In other words, once somebody in a space starts opening up, its competitors simply have no choice but to follow if they want to keep the developers with them - absent unnatural constraints like lock-ins born of long-standing monopolistic behaviour....


Not, as you might think, an Aztec god....

Open Textbook Joins the Family

Today we are pleased to announce the launch of http://www.opentextbook.org/, a place to list and keep track of news about textbooks that are open in accordance with the Open Knowledge Definition — i.e. free to use, reuse, and redistribute. We welcome participation in the project and if anyone has a textbook or notes they’d like to see listed or would like to be a contributor to the site please head on over to http://www.opentextbook.org/.

More here.

Is Microsoft People-Ready?

It's interesting that the brouhaha over Microsoft's "people-ready" campaign involving top bloggers mouthing incomprehensible sound-bites about "people-readiness" has concentrated on castigating the bloggers involved. But what I find interesting is the light it throws on Microsoft.

The whole campaign is just so maladroit: using blogger stars in this way shows that the company simply has no idea of how the blogosphere - glorified echo-chamber that it so often is - works. This crescendo of self-righteousness on the part of other bloggers was inevitable: it's not like this kind of collective breast-beating hasn't happened before.

Which goes to show that in its dealings with this quintessentially people-centric medium, Microsoft is, to coin a phrase, deeply "people-unready".

Of Open Knowledge and Closed Minds


US university students will not be able to work late at the campus, travel abroad, show interest in their colleagues' work, have friends outside the United States, engage in independent research, or make extra money without the prior consent of the authorities, according to a set of guidelines given to administrators by the FBI.

Better shut down that pesky Internet thingy while you're at it - who knows what knowledge may be seeping out through it? (Via The Inquirer.)

22 June 2007

Funny Old Business.com

This is just a test to see if anyone's awake, right?

Entrepreneurs Jake Winebaum and Sky Dayton were widely mocked for lavishing $7.5 million on a single Internet domain name -- business.com -- back in 1999. It was the single highest price paid for a domain name at the time.

Now look who is having the last laugh.

The company that grew out of business.com -- a search engine used by businesses to find products and services -- is now on the auction block, and could fetch anywhere between $300 million and $400 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Me, it was me: I mocked back in 1999, and guess what: I'm mocking now, even more - about 50 times more.

Don't Mess With Our Thing

This litany of music industry woes is an object lesson in what happens if you fight the (Net) Family:

The major labels are struggling to reinvent their business models, even as some wonder whether it's too late. "The record business is over," says music attorney Peter Paterno, who represents Metallica and Dr. Dre. "The labels have wonderful assets -- they just can't make any money off them." One senior music-industry source who requested anonymity went further: "Here we have a business that's dying. There won't be any major labels pretty soon."

Amazingly, it could have all been so different:

Seven years ago, the music industry's top executives gathered for secret talks with Napster CEO Hank Barry. At a July 15th, 2000, meeting, the execs -- including the CEO of Universal's parent company, Edgar Bronfman Jr.; Sony Corp. head Nobuyuki Idei; and Bertelsmann chief Thomas Middelhof -- sat in a hotel in Sun Valley, Idaho, with Barry and told him that they wanted to strike licensing deals with Napster. "Mr. Idei started the meeting," recalls Barry, now a director in the law firm Howard Rice. "He was talking about how Napster was something the customers wanted."

So near and yet so far. (Via IP Democracy.)

Time for BBC to Face the Music

Great to see the plucky Open Source Consortium getting its terrier-like teeth into the corpulent flesh that is the BBC:

The Open Source Consortium has written to Ofcom, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the BBC Trust, asking for a re-examination of the effects of the BBC's iPlayer (TV on-demand) service being tied into Microsoft Windows Media Player for at least two years and, by extension, new versions of Windows, to be considered.

OSC Chief Executive Iain Roberts said "This action from the BBC effectively promotes one operating system vendor at the expense of others. It is very disturbing that the BBC should be using licence payers' money to affect the operating system market in this way. Imagine if the BBC were to launch new digital channels, but only make them available on a certain make of television - there would be uproar."

We can't let the BBC get away with this, and it's great to see the OSC stepping into the arena to take on the bloated behemoth.

WIPO Webcast Wipe-Out?

Good news, it seems:

World Intellectual Property Organization negotiations for a treaty on rights for broadcasters broke down at the eleventh hour, according to participating government officials. A high-level final treaty negotiation scheduled for November will not take place, they said.

This was a treaty that would have effectively killed fair use for "webcasting" - essentially distributing media files online. There's still a slight danger that the wicked WIPO witch isn't quite dead:

Government sources stopped short of calling the treaty talks dead forever, saying that proponents might still propose a way to resume the talks in the future.

Fingers crossed.

Update: My characterisation of the threat is ill-expressed at best, and downright wrong at worst. Try Ars Technica for something better.

21 June 2007

After Flickr, It Gets Quickr

Not, alas, open source as far as I can tell:

IBM Lotus Quickr is team collaboration software that helps you share content, collaborate and work faster online with your teams -- inside or outside firewall.

Interesting not just for its adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, but its anointing of the Flickr naming meme. (Via Bob Sutor's Open Blog.)

After Netcraft

For over a decade, it has been a point of faith that Apache is not only a better Web server than Microsoft's IIS, but that this is demonstrable: the Netcraft survey of public Web servers shows that Apache has been consistently ahead.

Alas, for a variety of reasons - not least Microsoft's determination to reduce the gap, whatever the cost - Apache's lead is falling. So it's good to have this new survey that re-asserts Apache's superiority, and adds a nice extra twist:

Linux websites have better uptime and load faster than Windows-based websites. Research by WatchMouse, a website monitoring company, also shows that web server platform Apache outperforms the Microsoft IIS platform. Therefore, having a Linux website and an Apache webserver platform offers the best choice for professional web pages.

I feel another Microsoft-funded piece of research on its way....

UK in the Doghouse

Talking of paying the price for environmental factors in products, it seems that many Europeans would be willing to pay for greener options. Except the bloody Brits. Shame on us!

Paying the True Cost

I and many others have written about the need for economic goods to include all the real costs of production - including environmental costs. Here's a great demonstration of what goes wrong if you don't:

"The West moved its manufacturing base to China knowing it was vastly more polluting than Japan, Europe or the US," he added.

"No environmental conditions were attached to this move; in fact the only thing manufacturers were interested in was the price of labour.

"This trend kept the price of our products down but at the cost of soaring greenhouse gas emissions. Long term, this policy has been a climate disaster.

Nominal price goes down, environmental cost goes up. If the latter were factored in, China would not be so eager to employ production techniques that poison its own land and people.

US vs. WTO

I've written about the spat between the US and Antigua before, but it looks like things are getting really heavy:

And so, today, what is expected to become a parade of countries demanding sanctions against the United States as a result of its refusal to comply with WTO rulings on gambling services began to form, as Japan and India piled it on with more demands for compensation. Every other signatory affected will have a right to demand sanctions, and those sanctions may, depending on the circumstances, be applied against any American industry, from automobiles to semiconductors.

Something's got to give: I wonder what it will be.

20 June 2007

Penguins in Space

Well, sort of:

Wind River Systems, Inc., the global leader in Device Software Optimization (DSO), today announced that it has been selected by Honeywell Aerospace to support the development of NASA's New Millennium Program Space Technology 8 (ST8) Dependable Multiprocessor. The contract marks the first time a Linux platform has been selected by Honeywell for a space mission. Honeywell Aerospace is the prime contractor for NASA's ST8 Dependable Multiprocessor project. Wind River® Platform for Network Equipment, Linux Edition, will be the underlying operating system to support the processing of science and experiment data onboard the ST8 spacecraft.

What's ironic here is that Wind River was once one of the biggest sceptics about open source in these kind of mission-critical situations. How times change. How times will change. (Via DaniWeb.)

As I Was Saying...

...the New Great Lie is the beginning of a larger attempt by traditional content owners to put the genie back in the bottle. Here's some more of the same:

Wright praised Cotton's work with the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, work that drew criticism after Cotton suggested that US law enforcement resources were "misaligned" and that too much energy and money was spent stopping burglaries and bank robberies and not enough spent on piracy prevention. Cotton's plan is a "groundbreaking and far-reaching set of proposals," according to Wright, who made clear that the full power of GE was behind the plan.

Government Glimmers: Open Source, Open Data


An online calculator that enables people to work out their carbon footprint was launched by Environment Secretary, David Miliband today.

Defra’s Act on CO2 calculator is designed to increase understanding of the link between individual action and climate change, through carbon dioxide emissions. It also raises awareness of the different actions people can take in their everyday lives to help tackle climate change.

Double kudos:

The software that runs the calculator, complete with the Government data, will be made freely available under general public licence. This will enable others wanting to use the software to power their own calculators, using their own branding.

Wow: open source and open data. (Via Open Source Weblog.)

Crowdsourcing Sousveillance

I wrote recently about Microsoft's amazing Photosynth demo, which shows pictures of Notre-Dame taken from Flickr stitched together automatically to produce a three-dimensional model that you can zoom into in just about any way.

Then I read this:

Madeleine McCann's parents will appeal to Irish tourists to check holiday snaps for clues - while the flat their child was abducted from reportedly sold for half price.

Madeleine's parents Kate McCann, 38, and Gerry, 39, will appear on television to ask anyone who took a trip to Portugal in early May to send photos to British investigators.

It occurred to me that what we really need is a system that can take these holiday snaps and put them together in time to create a four-dimensional model that can be explored by the police - a new kind of crowdsourced sousveillance.

Given that Photosynth is still experimental, we're probably some way off this. I'd also have concerns about handing over all this information to the authorities without better controls on what would be done with it (look what's happening with the UK's DNA database.)

Open Source Comedy

Well, that's what it says here:

The concept involves comedians driving around Europe and users (viewers) can decide where they go and what they do. In Where Are the Joneses comdedians drive around, trying to find their fictional siblings.

Users have a full arsenal of ‘open tools’ to engage with the site and campaign: a wiki to influence the script and also a twitter integration.

Welcome to Second Earth

This is the best introduction to virtual worlds so far: comprehensive, link-rich, and well written. Do read it if you can - it's time well spent.

Do Not Feed the Patent Trolls

Good point here about a big problem with the apparently welcome Peer to Patent project:

Helping patent trolls with their QA is like going through bandits' ammunition and throwing out the dud rounds for them before they try to rob you.

And sensible advice, too:

If you have Prior Art, print it out and put it in your safe deposit box. Make sure that the source is verifiable, but don't tell anyone what the source is. Don't say it's from "the June 1997 login;" or "comp.sources.unix in May 1986". If you want, borrow a tactic from Tim O'Reilly and tell people that you have prior art for a certain patent, but don't give attackers any more information than you have to.

More generally, perhaps the free software community should set up a shadow scheme that tracks all of these patent applications, and works to find prior art, which it then stores safely against a rainy day.

The Eyes Have It

I'm not a great user of Baidu, for geographical and linguistic reasons. But this eye-tracking analysis that compares Baidu with Google is interesting for the light it sheds on how people use search engines.

19 June 2007

Interview with Fedora's Max Spevack

Following the recent launch of Fedora 7, I spoke to Max Spevack, Fedora Project Leader, about how Fedora and Red Hat work together, and what lies ahead.

Glyn Moody: What's the nature of the relationship between Fedora and Red Hat?

Max Spevack: It's very symbiotic, obviously, because Red Hat offers significant financial support to the Fedora Project. I really believe that the Fedora Project represents sort of the soul of Red Hat. It's the place where, as a company, Red Hat devotes its effort to truly working with and embracing the larger open source community, and giving power and access to the distribution, to the engineers and programmers and contributors who are not a part of Red Hat.

At the same time, Fedora represents, from an engineer's perspective, an upstream for all of Red Hat's other products; like, for example, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is built about every two years. Fedora is a distribution that we try to release twice a year, and we try to always focus on the things that are important to the larger Fedora community, while at the same time allowing Fedora to be a place where things that Red Hat engineering groups are working on can also make their way into the distribution.

Glyn Moody: What about the day-to-day dynamics: to what extent do people at Red Hat say, "Gosh, we'd really like this particular feature at some point. How about working on it?"

Max Spevack: When we try to sit down and plan out what a version of Fedora is going to look like and start to make a feature list of thing we'd like to get into any given version of Fedora, one of the groups that we go and talk to is the Red Hat Enterprise Linux product guys and engineering managers. And we say, "Well, what are the things that your teams are working on that you would like us to include in, say, Fedora 6 or Fedora 7 or Fedora 8, based on when you think certain things are going to be ready?" And so that is one person that we talk to.

And then, at the same time, we go out to the larger Fedora community and we say, on our public mailing lists and on our wiki: "We want to try to put together a release of Fedora that'll come out five months from now. What are some of the features that you guys think are important? Or what are some of the places that you think need more work?"

And we get that whole list, and then we can kind of build out and say, "Well, all right, here's the thing that Red Hat wanted to work on. And, well, Red Hat's got five guys working on it, so that's taken care of. The community was asking for X, Y, and Z. And, well, there's a programmer in the community who has volunteered to lead the development of that feature, and so it's going to happen."

"This other feature is something that everyone thinks would be great, but there isn't really anyone with free time to work on it, so let's go and talk to the Red Hat management and see if we can maybe find an engineer who can get some of their time to spend working on that feature."

Glyn Moody: Is there ever a tension between what Red Hat wants to do and what your community wants to do.

Max Spevack: Well, it comes in cycles. I would say 90 percent of what's in Fedora 7 is all stuff that's really, really important to the Fedora community. Part of the reason why that was possible for Fedora 7 is because RHEL 5 was just released a few months ago, and so there isn't really any new RHEL kind of stuff ready to go yet, because that's a two-year release cycle.

If you back up, though, six months, to when we were finishing Fedora Core 6, Fedora Core 6 was the last version of Fedora that was coming out before a Red Hat Enterprise Linux release. RHEL 5 was based very significantly off of the Fedora Core 6 upstream, and so if you look at the development cycle leading up to Fedora Core 6, I would say that it was slightly less community-focused and slightly more Red Hat-focused.

And so the give and take happens based on where we are in relation to a Fedora Release and a RHEL release, and how their two-year release cycle and our six-month release cycle overlap with each other.

Glyn Moody: What kind of developer wants to work on Fedora rather than on one of the other distros?

Max Spevack: What Fedora offers that I think a lot of other folks don't at this point in time is the complete transparency into the entire build process. What I mean by that is everything, from you writing your code and checking it into CVS, through your code going into the build system and producing an RPM, to a compose tool taking a whole collection of RPMs from various repositories and turning those into an actual CD or installable tree - every step along that path is completely free software, is completely external and community-based. And anybody in the world can use that same toolchain, or work from it, to build a version of Fedora that is completely customized to their environment.

[For] the older versions of Fedora, the Fedora code was in two different repository. One repository was the one that was owned by the community, and the other repository was the one that was owned by Red Hat, and we didn't like that. And we have blown that whole idea up, in Fedora 7, and turned it all into one community-owned repository, which is what has allowed us to then also make sure that all the tools that build the distribution out of that repository are also completely community-owned.

Glyn Moody: It sounds to me, to paraphrase a little bit what you're saying, that you've moved towards the Debian model and taken, in many ways, the best bits of their approach. But you have the advantage, which perhaps they don't have, in having a company with reasonably deep pockets behind you, as well. Would that be fair?

Max Spevack: I think that is a pretty good way to look at it. Certainly, having Red Hat as a big corporate sponsor of what we do with Fedora doesn't hurt, because it helps us make sure we have the ability to hire the best contributors to Fedora every now and then.

Over the last year or so, we've hired probably three or four of some of the leading community contributors to Fedora, and we've said, "By the way, we've noticed that over the last two years you've spent 30 hours a week - somehow, in your spare time, when you're not doing your actual job - working on Fedora. What do you say we give you a paycheck and let you spend 50 hours a week doing it just for us?”

Glyn Moody: Looking forward a little, how do you see Fedora evolving?

Max Spevack: There's a few things that I see happening in the next nine or 12 months. All of the change that we have put in the last six months into the Fedora is going to need a little time to let the dust settle on it. As people start to use some of these tools more frequently, there's going to be complaints, and we're going to make them better.

I think there is a lot of potential in the live CD arena. One of the things we have got working for Fedora 7 is the live USB key, where you can put the whole distro on a USB key and boot it up. I think that there's a lot of work to be done there to make that feel a little more like a full product - making sure that the extra space on that USB key can be encrypted, making it really easy to upgrade.

Glyn Moody: What about things like support? Outside Red Hat, what structures do you have in place for directly supporting your users?

Max Spevack: The main way of getting support for Fedora is the Fedora community. It's the Fedora mailing lists; FedoraForum.org, which gets tons and tons of traffic; Fedora IRC. It's a very grassroots kind of support structure right now.

I think there is definitely a space there to offer a more formalized support of Fedora. And when I make my own personal list of goals that aren't engineering related, for Fedora, that's certainly one of the ones that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about. Is there a way that we - meaning Red Hat or the Fedora Project - can offer a more formal kind of support around Fedora? Even if it's like five bucks a month, is there a way we can see if there's people out there who would like a more formalized support of Fedora? And if there's a market for it, we can figure out a way to offer it.

Larry Lessig 2.0

Important news:

The bottom line: I have decided to shift my academic work, and soon, my activism, away from the issues that have consumed me for the last 10 years, towards a new set of issues. Why and what are explained in the extended entry below.

Good luck, Larry: whatever you do in your new field, I'm sure it's going to be pretty damn good.

DNA = Do Not Ask

This will end in tears:

Although the ability to conduct a home DNA test and get the results with relative ease are tempting, the thought of sitting across the kitchen table with a distant cousin-husband may be little too weird to down with the morning coffee.

World Bank 2.0

Signs of the times:

As explained on BuzzMonitor's "about page" -- "Like many organizations, we started listening to blogs and other forms of social media by subscribing to a blog search engine RSS feed but quickly understood it was not enough. The World Bank is a global institution and we needed to listen in multiple languages, across multiple platforms. We needed something that would aggregate all this content, help us make sense of it and allow us to collaborate around it."

The World Bank contracted with the software firm Development Seed to build the new program, with additional input from the World Resources Institute. Development Seed relied on the popular open-source content management system Drupal for its core code. Last week the bank announced that version 1.0 of BuzzMonitor was available for free download to all comers, and suggested that it was particularly applicable to nonprofit organizations interested in monitoring what the Web was saying about them.

18 June 2007

I Want to Learn About CC Learn

Sounds cool:

James Boyle ... announced that a new project, called “CC Learn”, has been launched, to work on lobbying all the open education projects to use open licenses, and to be interoperable and reusable. Hewlett has now funded this project, and a Director has been hired. I’ve got some inside information I can’t disclose (sigh) but I can say that there are really big things happening inside CC Learn and that they’re getting a huge amount of traction...

Requiem for a Failed Methodology

News that Granger is abandoning the sinking ship that is NHS Connecting for Health is hardly a surprise. The £12 billion project was doomed before it started, because it tried to apply an unworkable, 20th-century, closed-source software methodology - one that not only does not scale, but that actually gets worse the bigger the project (hello, Fred Brooks).

The only way to address these kind of mammoth undertakings is by using a lightly-coupled, decentralised approach. And that means open standards at a minimum, and ideally full-bore open source. The equation is simple: the more openness, the greater the scope for componentisation, the greater the flexibility - and the greater the chance the damn thing will actually work.

Sadly, NHS Connecting for Health will go down in history as the perfect demonstration of this fact. - Sadly, because I shall be paying for some of it.


I seem to be one of the few people on this planet unaffected by the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field; indeed, I find the Fake Steve Jobs more, er, authentic. Desptie this, I have to confess I much enjoyed this Jobs profile by John Heilemann.

But in all its shrewd and witty analysis, it seems to miss the key thing about the iPhone: that it is not just expensive, but obscenely expensive in a world where many people earn less than $500 per year. In other words, the iPhone - rather like Jobs - is supremely narcissistic.

Perhaps that why Apple's products stick in my craw: with their self-assigned exclusivity and implicit sense of superiority, they are the antithesis of free software, which is inclusive and fundamentally egalitarian. The fact that MacOS is built on free software only adds insult to injury.

Open Source Disaster Preparation

Another thought-provoking post from Jamais Cascio:

In fact, the Book & Seed Vault may prove to function better as a model and instructions than as an actual vault. We'd need more than one site for any kind of disaster recovery system to be truly useful; we have to assume that many of the eventual locations will be unavailable, so the more the better. The right scale for something like this is probably the "community" -- a bit bigger than your neighborhood, but smaller than a city.

Think of it as open-source disaster prep -- a site and set of resources offering detailed instructions (which can be updated by the users, of course) showing you how to build a recovery vault for your community. What are the physical specs for the facility? Which seeds are appropriate for your regional climate? What are the key instruction manuals and guidebooks to include? How best to store and protect the vault's contents? I could see this done as a wiki and mailing list, probably with some YouTube videos demonstrating various techniques for proper seed and book storage.

Wiping the WIPO Slate Clean

As I've noted before, if WIPO is to avoiding turning into a huge ball on chain on the international community, it needs to change; specifically, it needs to rethink its attitude to intellectual monopolies, and embrace the larger idea of the intellectual commons.

Amazingly, there are some small signs that this is beginning to happen:

Members of a World Intellectual Property Organization committee addressing proposals for a WIPO Development Agenda last week potentially rewrote the UN body’s mandate, pending approval.

Negotiators concluded a weeklong meeting with agreements on a wide range of proposals for new development-related activities - some hard to imagine for WIPO two years ago - and a recommendation to set up a new committee to implement the proposals.

“This is a major achievement,” said a participating official. “It’s a complete overhaul of the WIPO concept, broadening it to reflect society’s growing concern with ownership of technologies and knowledge, and its effects for the future, both in developed and developing countries.”

However, there is a rearguard action being fought against this by - guess who? - yup, the US:

The United States, meanwhile, moved quickly to emphasise the inclusion of IP protection and that the recommendations are within the existing WIPO mandate. It also sought to tie the outcome to its hope for a renewed effort at harmonising national patent laws.

Fortunately, developing countries and emerging powers like Brazil are becoming sufficiently strong and self-confident to fight this kind of recidivism.

17 June 2007

Dell Tries Harder


Now's not the time to mince words, so let me just say it... we blew it.

Among the Gold Farmers

Great piece by Mr Julian "Tiny Life" Dibbell about the gold farmers of China, and beyond:

There was a lot of shouting involved, at least in the beginning. Besides the orders called out by the supervisors, there were loud attempts at coordination among the team members themselves. “But then we developed a sense of cooperation, and the shouting grew rarer,” Min said. “By the end, nothing needed to be said.” They moved through the dungeons in silent harmony, 40 intricately interdependent players, each the master of his part. For every fight in every dungeon, the hunters knew without asking exactly when to shoot and at what range; the priests had their healing spells down to a rhythm; wizards knew just how much damage to put in their combat spells.

Let's Hear It for Hugo

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez may be barking or worse (his totalitarian tendencies keep peeping out), but he's certainly innovative:

The Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez announced the launch of their "Bolivarian Computers" last week, consisting of four different models produced in Venezuela with Chinese technology. The new computers will run the open-source Linux operating system and will first be used inside the government "missions" and state companies and institutions but eventually are expected to be sold across Venezuela and Latin America.

This will make Venezuela an interesting laboratory for the wider sale and use of GNU/Linux-based PCs within a country. (Via Slashdot.)

15 June 2007

The New Great Lie

Here's a dangerous development:

“Our law enforcement resources are seriously misaligned,” NBC/Universal general counsel Rick Cotton said. “If you add up all the various kinds of property crimes in this country, everything from theft, to fraud, to burglary, bank-robbing, all of it, it costs the country $16 billion a year. But intellectual property crime runs to hundreds of billions [of dollars] a year.”

Cotton is spearheading the new effort, christened the “Campaign to Protect America,” as chairman of the newly formed Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy.

This is clearly total poppycock: the figures for the supposed losses due to "piracy" are hugely exaggerated and the result of wishful thinking - as if every copy represents a lost sale, which is patently false, even for analogue goods, never mind digital ones. Moreover, comparing the theoretical loss of revenue because of copying with the very real loss and pain that a burglary causes is a total insult to the victims of the latter.

It's also worth noting that in the "Campaign to Protect America" we have an apotheosis of weasel words: protect it from *what*? I think we need a campaign to protect everyone from the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, who are clearly a bunch of sad and selfish people if they can come out with statements like the one above.

14 June 2007

Access to Knowledge is Dangerous


Although the idea of discussions on a Treaty on Access to Knowledge appears to have strong support in the African Group, Asian Group and the Group of Friends of Development, Group B is mounting a full court press against even the mere mention of “access to knowledge” in the recommendations of this PCDA as evidenced by the bracketed text.

Paragraph 10 on complementary mechanisms of stimulating innovation reads:

10. [To exchange experiences on open collaborative projects for the development of public goods such as the Human Genome Project and Open Source Softwared (Manalo 38)]

It is quite unfortunate that the intransigence of rich Member States and their allies is hindering true progress at WIPO whether it be on the over-arching principle of a Treaty on Access to Knowledge or examining open collaborative projects.

Dangerous stuff this knowledge: got to keep it locked down. (Via James Love.)

Update: Some movement on the first matter, it seems.

Of Patent Trolls and Patent Wimps

Who needs patent trolls when you've got patent wimps?

If broad patent reform is a lost cause - as seems probable - Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Zafirovski would be wise to spend their energies bulking up their in-house intellectual property teams and hiring good U.S. lawyers.


The Canadians may find that it's easier, and significantly cheaper, to swallow their pride and work within the U.S. system, rather than betting on its demise.

Oh, yeah, right: just like it would have been far more sensible for Richard Stallman just to have accepted the inevitability of closed-source, proprietary software back in the 1980s.

Idiotic patents - and indeed the entire, broken US patent system - have never been under such pressure as now; more and more people are realising that patents do not promote innovation, but actually act as a brake on it. As ideas of openness spread, the present system of intellectual monopolies will gradually be exposed for the sham it is. Any suggestion that people should "swallow their pride" is misguided in the extreme.

13 June 2007

OpenDemocracy, Closed Minds?

I like OpenDemocracy. It has some interesting articles, very often on areas about which I know little. But I do have to wonder, sometimes, whether the minds there are quite as open to new ideas as they seem to be:

In the example of openDemocracy's articles being available on a profusion of other publications, the choice for a reader between this site or that site tends to the meaningless - indeed, it is often mediated by a search algorithm. What is the significance of reading about the Serbian election on ISN rather than openDemocracy? Is there a defining choice there? So here is the paradox for communities of the digital commons: to build a community is to offer an escape from the arbitrary; but to release material to the digital commons is to add to the conditions of the arbitrary.

Well, no, actually. Since:

Today almost all of openDemocracy's articles are licensed under Creative Commons (CC) "advertising" licenses. This is a modification of the ordinary, default, copyright position. Under the license we use, the author and the publication allow reproduction of the article as long as: the receiving publication is making non-commercial use of the material; that it is attributing the material to the original publication; and that it is not making any modifications of the material.

Assuming the licence is respected, this means that there is still a link back to this "community"; indeed, it will drive more people to that "community". Fortunately, OpenDemocracy has a voice of reason in its midst:

Becky Hogge, openDemocracy columnist and head of the Open Rights Group, put to me the orthodox position from the Commons (the diffuse movement that sees intellectual property as inappropriate to the digital age). This is just how things ought to work, she claimed: the information gets greater coverage, and, once created, that is all that counts.

Yup: go, Becky, go.

IBM's Virtual Virtual World

I have this feeling that IBM is going to be very big in virtual worlds. It's got a new site called "Innovation in virtual worlds"; there's not much there at the moment, just this brochure.

Dear Wicked WIPO

WIPO is at it again, trying to bring in a big, bad broadcasting treaty:

In 2006, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was inches away from finalizing a treaty that would have crippled Internet broadcasting. Called the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty, it gave traditional broadcasters and cablecasters new copyright-like rights over their transmissions, including control over Internet retransmissions of broadcasts and cablecasts. Creating these rights is not only unnecessary to incentivize new forms of online communication such as podcasting and videoblogging, but will also inhibit the growth of these new citizen-generated media.


In an astounding turnaround last year, WIPO Member States told the WIPO Secretariat to rewrite the Treaty and make it focus more narrowly on signal protection. Thanks to the efforts of technology companies, independent podcasters, and activists, the delegates agreed that the treaty shouldn't be premised on creating new rights, which would lead to more litigation that would stifle new technologies and harm citizen-run Web broadcasting activities. Instead, any new treaty should be based on protection of broadcast signals. This was a huge victory for podcasters, their fans, and innovative business that are pushing video on the web.

Then, in May of this year, WIPO released a "new" draft of the treaty that looks disconcertingly like the old one. Sure, there was some tinkering around the edges, but the Treaty still gives broadcasters and cablecasters new exclusive rights, and it still covers transmission over the Internet. Worse, it includes an expanded technological protection measure provision that could ban any unauthorised "device or system capable of decrypting an encrypted broadcast" - which means all modern personal computers!

Don't let them get away with it: sign the Dear WIPO petition.

An Opening for OpenAds

Business open source just keeps on getting stronger:

Openads, a supplier of free software used by Web sites to manage online ad campaigns, has received $5 million in initial funding, bolstering it to prepare for increasing competition globally with Google Inc.


London-based Openads was founded as a grassroots, open-source software development project in 1999. It has signed up 25,000 Web site publishers in more than 100 countries and 20 languages.

12 June 2007

Great, Microsoft - But What About the Commons?

Photosynth is undoubtedly amazing. But this video indicates that it's even more powerful than previously suggested; specifically, it talks about using public pictures on Flickr to create not only detailed, three-dimensional images of the world, but also to use any tags they have to provide transferable metadata. In other words, it's a product of collective intelligence, that builds on the work of the many.

That's all well and good, but I do wonder whether Microsoft has given any thought to its responsibility to the commons it is making free with here....

Red Hat's Stack Attack

I've commented on Red Hat Exchange before, but now there's something to see: essentially, a roll-call of the leading open source enterprise apps - and the next frontier for free software.

Do Your SELF a Favour


The SELF Platform aims to be the central platform with high quality educational and training materials about Free Software and Open Standards. It is based on world-class Free Software technologies that permit both reading and publishing free materials, and is driven by a worldwide community.

The SELF Platform will have two main functions. It will be simultaneously a knowledge base and a collaborative production facility: On the one hand, it will provide information, educational and training materials that can be presented in different languages and forms: from course texts, presentations, e-learning programmes and platforms to tutor software, e-books, instructional and educational videos and manuals. On the other hand, it will offer a platform for the evaluation, adaptation, creation and translation of these materials. The production process of such materials will be based on the organisational model of Wikipedia.

(Via Creative Commons.)

Happy Birthday, GCC

It was early June in 1987 when Richard Stallman announced the release of the GNU C compiler version 1.0.

Interesting historical background from Michael Tiemann. It all seems so long ago, now....

Going on a Blender

Blender has always been one of my favourite open source projects, not least for the inspirational way money was raised by the common folk to make proprietary code open. Similarly, the open film "Elephant's Dream" was a good example of innovative thinking.

Now they're at it again:

As a follow-up to the successful project Orange's "Elephants Dream", the Blender Foundation will initiate another open movie project. Again a couple of the best 3D artists and developers in the Blender community will be invited to come together to work in Amsterdam on completing a short 3D animation movie.


As a second open project, the Blender Foundation and Crystal Space community are going to cooperate on organizing an Open Game. This will become possible thanks to the support by the NLGD Conference, the "Nederlandse Game Dagen", the annual conference for the Netherlands game industry.

This project will have as a main target to validate open source for creating professional quality 3d games, with Blender being used as creation and protyping tool and Crystal Space as engine and delivery platform.

All important stuff, because it's taking open source into new areas.

11 June 2007

What is Apple Hunting For?

At first sight, news that Apple has released a Windows version of its Safari browser seems fairly ho-hum: it is hardly going to make any more of a dent in Internet Explorer's market share than Firefox already is. Nor is it truly cross-platform like Firefox. It seems likely that the move is to bolster Safari as a platform, since it will form a key part of the imminent iPhone.

But in fact this represents a win for both open standards and open source. Safari is based on Konqueror's KHTML engine; as such, it will help push Web standards, which in turn can only make things easier for Firefox. And anything that helps buck up the browser market, which is beginning to flag again after the excitement of Firefox's earlier irruption, is certainly welcome.

10 June 2007

The Bad Boy of Genomics Strikes Again

When I was writing Digital Code of Life, I sought to be scrupulously fair to Craig Venter, who was often demonised for his commercial approach to science. Ind fact, it seemed to me he had often gone out of his way to make the results of his work available.

So it's with some sadness that I note that the "Bad Boy of Genomics" epithet seems justified in this more recent case:

A research institute has applied for a pat­ent on what could be the first largely ar­ti­fi­cial or­gan­ism. And peo­ple should be al­armed, claims an ad­vo­ca­cy group that is try­ing to shoot down the bid.


The ar­ti­fi­cial or­gan­ism, a mere mi­crobe, is the brain­child of re­search­ers at the Rock­ville, Md.-based J. Craig Ven­ter In­sti­tute. The or­gan­iz­a­tion is named for its found­er and CEO, the ge­net­icist who led the pri­vate sec­tor race to map the hu­man ge­nome in the late 1990s.

The re­search­ers filed their pat­ent claim on the ar­ti­fi­cial or­gan­ism and on its ge­nome. Ge­net­i­cally mo­di­fied life forms have been pa­tented be­fore; but this is the first pa­tent claim for a crea­ture whose genome might be created chem­i­cally from scratch, Mooney said.

This is problematic on a number of levels. For a start, it shouldn't be possible to patent DNA, since it is not an invention. Simply combining existing sequences is not an invention either. There is also the worry that what is being created here is the first genomic operating system: locking others out with patents maans repeating all the mistakes that have been made in some jurisdictions by allowing the patenting of conventional software.

09 June 2007

Enter the Bio-Hackers

Let's hope there are some white hat bio-hackers working on this too....

08 June 2007

Dangerous (Open) Knowledge

Of course, open genomics is not entirely unproblematic:

A new era of genetic testing would leave those who test positive for common serious illnesses open to discrimination from insurers, academics are warning.

A catalogue of genetic markers for common illnesses have been revealed in recent weeks after a breakthrough in genomic scanning techniques. Scientists expect genetic testing for people's risk of diseases such as breast cancer, heart disease and bi-polar disorders to follow.

Visualising the Net

I live on the Net - well, almost. I certainly like to think of myself as a citizen of that strange, disembodied place. And as such, I welcome ways of thinking about the landscape I inhabit virtually.

And along comes Akamai, one of the best-kept secrets in that land, with something splendid:

20% of the world's Internet traffic is delivered over the Akamai platform. We combine this global scope with constant data collection to construct an accurate and comprehensive picture of what's happening on the Internet. Bookmark this page to check the world's online behavior at any given moment -- How fast is data moving? Where's the most congestion? What events are causing spikes in Web activity?

Previously, only Akamai and our customers had access to this information. Now we're opening that window into the online universe.

Don't miss the wonderful real-time monitor, which shows you things like traffic, latency and attacks in your area. Fascinating.

Ubuntu, The Magazine

For the distro that has everything, its very own mag. More details on its associated wiki.

The Power of (Open) Information

Here's an important study, called The Power of Information, that is actually all about the power of *open* information:

This is an unusual review in that it is a story of opportunities rather than problems. It takes a practical look at the use and development of citizen and state-generated information in the UK. For example, information produced by the government (often referred to as ‘public sector information’) includes maps, heart surgery mortality statistics and timetables, while information from citizens includes advice, product reviews or even recipes.

Public sector information underpins a growing part of the economy and the amount is increasing at a dramatic pace. The driver is the emergence of online tools that allow people to use, re-use and create information in new ways. Public sector information does not, however, cover personal information, such as credit record and medical histories. This is the first review to explore the role of government in helping to maximise the benefits for citizens from this new pattern of information creation and use.

When enough people can collect, re-use and distribute public sector information, people organise around it in new ways, creating new enterprises and new communities. In each case, these are designed to offer new ways of solving old problems. In the past, only large companies, government or universities were able to re-use and recombine information. Now, the ability to mix and ‘mash’ data is far more widely available.

It's important not just for its mass of detail, and sensible conclusions, but because

Cabinet Office Minister Hilary Armstrong commissioned the report to ensure Government acted as a leader in understanding changes in communication and information technology.

The accompanying press release even describes it as "eagerly awaited". Hm, we shall see how eagerly from the Government's response....

07 June 2007

Open Courseware Potpourri

I've written about open courseware a few times, particularly the big names. But there's plenty of other good courses out there, freely available. Finding them can be tricky, but here's a useful resource for winkling out a few of them:

The 100 open courseware sources listed below are freely available for anyone to use, whether you're a student, an instructor, or a self-learner. The courses are categorized by subject and listed alphabetically within that subject.

More G8 Intellectual Monopolies? Nein Danke

Now, I wonder where that lot over there could have got these ideas:

A fully functioning intellectual property system is an essential factor for the sustainable development of the global economy through promoting innovation. We recognize the importance of streamlining and harmonizing the international patent system in order to improve the acquisition and protection of patent rights world-wide.

35. The benefits of innovation for economic growth and development are increasingly threatened by infringements of intellectual property rights worldwide.


36. We commit to strengthen cooperation in this critical area among the G8 and other countries, particularly the major emerging economies, as well as competent international organizations, notably the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), WTO, the World Customs Organization (WCO), Interpol, the World Health Organization (WHO), the OECD, APEC, and the Council of Europe. We invite these organizations to reinforce their action in this field.

Sigh. Clearly still lots of work needed here, chaps....

10 Downing Street Talks Document Formats

Responsible citizen that I am, I signed an e-petition asking that nice Mr Blair to support ODF:

Government documents must be available for tens if not hundreds of years. Currently much electronic documentation is stored in proprietary formats, such as Microsoft's .doc format. In order to allow future generations access to these documents it is imperative that they be in a fully documented standard. Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) is now the international document standard and as such should be supported by the Government.

And here's what he (or just possibly one of his minions) said :

The UK Government champions open standards and interoperability through its e Government Interoperability Framework (eGIF). Where possible the Government only uses products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.

Interoperability and open standards also support the sustainability of digital information beyond any single generation of technology. New techniques for digital preservation being developed by The National Archives require the periodic transformation of digital information to new formats as technology changes. Such transformations will be simplified by the adoption of open standards.

No single format provides a universal solution for all types of digital information, and The National Archives therefore actively monitors and evaluates a wide range of existing and emerging formats (including OpenDocument Format). A policy on digital preservation, which includes guidance on the selection of sustainable data formats based on open standards, is being formulated by The National Archives, and will help define the standards for desktop systems. The National Archives technical registry 'PRONOM' (new window) supports this through the provision of key information about the most widely-used formats.

So there we have it.

Microsoft, Its Rose and the Canker

Now here's an interesting thing:

Developing the Future is an annual report examining the impact of the software development industry on the UK economy, from both a local and global perspective. The report is a collaborative work with partners from the IT industry and academia. By exploring emerging trends, the report stimulates debate between stakeholders and calls for positive action to support the UK software industry.

It's interesting because:

The second edition of Developing the Future not only comprises original research commissioned by Microsoft on these fascinating themes, it also includes independent articles from luminaries such as Will Hutton, outlining unique perspectives on the massive change now taking place in Britain.

You'd pretty much expect this to be standard Microsoft propaganda, along the lines of its risible TCO "studies"; but you'd be wrong. Developing the Future is an extremely interesting look at major issues affecting UK software development in the near-future. It is one of the best-presented digital documents I have seen in a while, with excellent photography, and a nice clean design.

The contents aren't bad either: for the most part, the writing is neutral and fair. Only at one point is it clear that there is a canker at the heart of this rose, when the section on innovation starts wittering on about that mythical beast of "intellectual property", and comes out with this extraordinary self-evident truth:

The lack of intellectual property protection for algorithms, software or enhanced business processes are barriers to innovation.

Creating intellectual monopolies in something as fundamental as algorithms is about as sensible as handing out government monopolies on air and water. It's sad to see an otherwise forward-looking document stuck so firmly in the past, instead of promoting innovation and prosperity in the "Knowledge Economy" through the liberation of its wondrous, non-rivalrous, raw stuff: ideas.

Resolving the Open Conundrum

One of the central questions around openness is: Who pays? If stuff is freely available, where does the money come from?

In fact, the answer is simple: if the free stuff is valuable to certain people, those people will pay for it, even if it is free. Why? Because if they don't, it will disappear, and they will have lost something they valued.

But what about the free riders? Well, what about them? If you are getting what you want for a price that you consider fair, what's your problem? In fact, it's the free riders who have the problem: after all, who wants to look in the mirror and see a parasite?

Here's an organisation that gets this:

But why do our readers give so much to access content that is ‘free to the world’? They value our independence enormously and respect us for our transparency and honesty in requesting funds and the day to day operations of our organisation and they are realising enough real value from our free content that they want to ensure our business is sustainable.

(Via Open Access News.)

Microsoft's Gambit: Patently About Patents

Well, I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so:

Microsoft Corp. and LG Electronics (LGE) today announced that they have entered into a patent cross-license agreement to further the development of the companies' current and future product lines. Microsoft has focused on patent agreements in the recent past to develop a best-practices model for protecting intellectual property (IP) and respecting the IP rights of others, as well as building bridges with an array of industry leaders, including consumer electronics, telecommunications and computer hardware providers.

This is partly why we desperately need to sort out the mess that is intellectual property, especially in the US.

Cool Earth Meltdown

I was going to write about Cool Earth before, but the site went down. This is both good and bad news. Bad, because it suggests a lack of planning on the part of the people behind the site, and good because it was caused by the unexpectedly large influx of people wanting to visit and participate.

That's a particularly good sign because the whole idea is about letting ordinary people make a difference to global warming by helping to keep carbon sequestered in the rainforests. Agreed, this is not as good as actually taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, but given all the collateral benefits of preserving rainforests, it would be churlish to complain.

Moreover, Cool Earth seems to be recognise that preserving the rainforests is not about surrounding it with barbed wire to keep the baddies out: the local people - the goodies - must not only be taken into account, but actively involved so that they feel it is in their interests to protect rather than exploit by cutting down. Sustainability of this kind is hard to do well, but better than the current alternative.

The other key thing about Cool Earth is that it allows people who chip in to monitor their "bit" of the rainforest using Google Earth (and what a godsend that is in this context). This is absolutely crucial - not so much in terms of checking whether somebody's about to cut it down, since by then it's probably too late, but in allowing donors to feel connected. Without that feedback loop, you don't generate engagement, and the whole thing will just fizzle out.

I've no idea whether Cool Earth will make a difference or turn out to be a total flop. But it's an idea worth supporting (I'm certainly going to sign up for a few trees) - for everyone's sake.

The GNU GPL Is Dead - Not


The FSF should realize by now their influence is waning. Look at the plethora of alternative licenses. Now they’re really hamstringing themselves with Version 3, taking the license further and further from where industry developers are heading. Developers are still the heart of the open source community, and their support is integral to success. Are provisions concerned with patents and digital rights management really what developers want to see addressed? Do they care when Eben Moglen says "the time is rapidly approaching when the GPL is capable of leveling the monopolist to the ground?" Developers demand more freedom, not less. They want clear, practical leadership, not bombast.

Er, well, no, actually: more and more companies are adopting the GNU GPL; indeed, many that started out with dual licensing end up using just the GPL (for the full half-hour argument see hier.) The plethora of other licences represent background noise in comparison.

What's interesting is how, after years in the wilderness, RMS, the GNU GPL and the FSF all find themselves at the centre of so many debates around freedom and openness - not because they've moved there, but because the debates have moved to them.

06 June 2007

Gaussian vs. Paretian Thinking

Hm, nice:

From my personal experience with the nearly complete lack of interest within big government bureaucracies for Paretian thinking that is far more explanatory, actionable, and predictive than what they currently produce, I don't think we will unless we develop it outside the traditional public organizations. In that sense, we will all need to become global guerrillas.

Paretian thinking is essentially open, distributed thinking....

Winds of Change at the WTO?

OK, this might not seem much, but the fact that it's being discussed at all is something of an achievement:

The proposal for a new five-paragraph Article 29bis to the WTO’s 1994 TRIPS agreement, aims at protecting biodiversity particularly found in developing countries by making it mandatory for patent applicants to reveal where they obtained the biological resources or traditional knowledge in question, and to ensure fair and equitable benefit-sharing of commercial uses, as well as legal requirements in the providing country for prior informed consent to access the resources.

Now we need to move further by turning the WTO into a forum not about protecting intellectual monopolies, but about balancing them with various kinds of intellectual commons.

Open Cities Toronto 2007

Open Cities Toronto 2007 is a weekend-long web of conversation and celebration that asks: how do we collaboratively add more open to the urban landscape we share? What happens when people working on open source, public space, open content, mash up art, and open business work together? How do we make Toronto a magnet for people playing with the open meme?

Sounds my sort of place. (Via Boing Boing.)

DRM's Good Side

Well, sort of:

Although DRM has failed to accomplish its main goal (stopping piracy), it has been successful at bringing people from every corner of the globe together... in their hatred for DRM. Loathing for the technology has reached such a pitch that consumers around the world no longer whine only in the privacy of homes and apartments. They're taking to the streets, organizing marches and rallies and teaching events to educate the unenlightened. The newest campaign is in South America, where the Centro de Tecnologia e Sociedade (CTS) at a Brazilian law school has joined forces with consumer group Idec to mount an anti-DRM campaign of its own.

Ecological Economics and the Commons

Heavy but important stuff here:

some resources should be part of the commons because their physical attributes mean that common ownership and democratic allocation will be more sustainable, just and efficient than private ownership and market allocation. Information, which will play a critical role in solving the serious ecological problems we currently face, is one of those resources. So too are most ecosystem services. The fact is that conventional markets based on private property rights do not work to solve the macro-allocation problem, which in recent decades has become far more important than the micro-allocation problem. Solving this problem instead requires a system based on common property rights and democratic decision making concerning the desirable provision of ecosystem services.

Google Points Finger at Microsoft IIS

Interesting bit of shin-kicking here:

Web sites running Microsoft Corp.'s Web server software are twice as likely to be hosting malicious code as other Web sites, according to research from Google Inc.

Last month, Google's Anti-Malware team looked at 70,000 domains that were either distributing malware or hosting attack code. "Compared to our sample of servers across the Internet, Microsoft IIS features twice as often as a malware-distributing server," wrote Google's Nagendra Modadugu, in a Tuesday blog posting.

Together, IIS (Internet Information Services) and Apache servers host about 89 percent of all Web sites, but collectively they're responsible for 98 percent of all Web-based malware. Google actually found an equal number of Apache and IIS Web sites hosting malicious software, but because there are so many more sites hosted by Apache servers (66 percent versus Microsoft's 23 percent) malicious sites make up a much larger percentage of all IIS servers.

RMS Supports CC

One of the unfortunate schisms in the open world has just been healed. The Creative Commons' decision to drop the Developing Nations licence means that RMS now supports the initiative:

This is a big step forward, and I can now support CC.

05 June 2007

Movable Type Moves to Open Source

Good news for the world of blogging - and beyond:

Moveable Type 4.0 is the first major release of Movable Type since MT 3.0 in 2004 and comes complete with a market disrupting announcement: SixApart will open source Movable Type before the end of the third quarter.

There's already a website for the imminent open source community, too:

Movable Type Open Source, or MTOS, is the open source project that will consist of a GPL-licensed version of Movable Type 4.0, to be released in Q3 2007, and resources for the already large community of Movable Type developers, hosted at www.movabletype.org/opensource.

OA vs. Political and Selective Use of Data

Here's a great - and sadly necessary - piece of analysis:

Throughout the first half of 2007, the White House has falsely claimed that the United States is doing better than Europe in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This claim was officially made by the White House on February 7 and has been repeated in various forms by White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton, and Science Advisor to the President John Marburger, most recently on May 31, 2007.1 The White House is misusing science and data to make this claim, as the Pacific Institute first pointed out on March 8.2 The White House can only back up this claim by looking at a single greenhouse gas over a narrow timeline. Looking at the full range of gases over a longer period, the conclusion reverses completely: the European Union is curbing greenhouse gas emissions more aggressively and successfully than the United States.

And why can they say that? Because of open access to data: the antidote to the political and selective use of data is more data. It's no coincidence that the source of much of that data in the US, the EPA, is effectively being dismantled, and its hitherto open data made effectively inaccessible so that it can't be used in precisely this way. (Via Slashdot.)