31 December 2008

A Good Foundation for 2009

If I had to pinpoint major open source trends in 2008, one of them would be the rise in the foundation as a major force in free software. The best-known examples of these are probably the Mozilla Foundation and GNOME Foundation, both of which have expanded their ambitions recently. Here's what each has to say about its aims...

On Open Enterprise blog.

Proud to be Lesser

Matt has some thoughts on blogs - including this one:

my primary interest is in digging up what's not already "popular." Unfortunately, I'm as guilty as anyone of recycling "news," but real traffic comes from breaking new ground, and I find that by scouring Digg and much lesser-known blogs.


no Drudge Report for me. Instead I'll be reading OpenDotDotDot and other "lesser" blogs. Hopefully this will keep translating into rising Open Road readership in 2009. Maybe we'll break the top-5,000,000 by 2012. One can dream....

Thanks, Matt...I think.

Actually, I feel exactly the same way: I'd much rather read Matt's informed writing on The Open Road - born of real analytical intelligence *and* hands-on experience - than the frothy nonsense served up by "leading" blogs.

The latter are most interested in traffic and in maintaining their position as blogosphere personalities: famous for being famous. They rarely contribute a deeper understanding of the world they write about.

That's what we "lesser" blogs are for.

The Super-Stupid Super-Snooping Database Idea

This is just a jokette, right?

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone's calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

I mean, not content with attempting to put into place a total surveillance system, old Jacqui now seriously wants to out-source it? Which will effectively means that it can be owned by anyone - including a foreign entity - that buys the company with the contract.

I can see the political advantages of doing so - "oh no, *we* didn't lose all your intimate data, blame the company" - but this is stupidity squared.

Linus Plays Prince of Persia - Again

Most people in the free software world know that before he wrote Linux, Linus was using the Minix operating system. To run it, he had to acquire his first "proper" PC - his main machine until then was the Sinclair QL (remember that?). As he told me a few years ago, the PC arrived early in 1991....

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Commons of Darkness

Those of us who are city-dwellers rarely see much in the sky at night; we have lost the commons of darkness. As a result, to view the terrifying multitude of stars out in countries with little street lighting is an almost mystical experience.

Against that, er, background, here's an interesting idea:

2009 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope. The excitement is starting early, with Galloway Forest Park in Scotland announcing its plans to become Europe’s first “dark sky park.”

The forest, which covers 300 square miles and includes the foothills of the Awful Hand Range, rates as a 3 on the Bortle scale. The scale, created by John Bortle in 2001, measures night sky darkness based on the observability of astronomical objects. It ranges from Class 9 – Inner City Sky – where "the only celestial objects that really provide pleasing telescopic views are the Moon, the planets, and a few of the brightest star clusters (if you can find them)," to Class 1 – Excellent Dark-Sky Site – where "the galaxy M33 is an obvious naked-eye object" and "airglow… is readily apparent." Class 3 is merely "Rural Sky," meaning that while "the Milky Way still appears complex... M33 is only visible with averted vision."

(Via A Blog Around the Clock.)

30 December 2008

Extreme Openness: the Rise of Wikileaks

There is a long journalistic tradition of looking back at the end of the year over the major events of the preceding 12 months - one that I have no intention of following. But I would like to point out an important development in the world of openness that has occurred over that time-span: the rise and rise of Wikileaks....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Collaboration Markets and Open Source

Here's a detailed and important piece that looks at the economics of scientific collaboration. One concept that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog is that of collaboration markets:

There are good reasons it’s difficult to set up efficient collaboration markets in expert attention. Creative problems are often highly specialized one-off problems, quite unlike the commodites traded in most markets. Until very recently, markets in such specialized goods were relatively uncommon and rather limited even in the realm of physical goods. This has recently changed, with online markets such as eBay showing that it is possible to set up markets which are highly specialized, provided suitable search and reputational tools are in place.

To the extent such collaboration markets do exist in science, they still operate very inefficiently compared with markets for trade in goods. There are considerable trust barriers that inhibit trading relationship being set up. There is no medium of exchange (c.f. the posts by Shirley Wu and Cameron Neylon’s on this topic). The end result is that mechanisms for identifying and aggregating comparative advantage are downright primitive compared with markets for physical goods.

Perhaps the best existing examples of collaboration markets occur in the open source programming community. No single model is used throughout that community, but for many open source projects the basic model is to set up one or more online fora (email discussion lists, wikis, bug-tracking software, etcetera) which is used to co-ordinate activity. The fora are used to advertise problems people are having, such as bugs they’d like fixed, or features they’d like added. People then volunteer to solve those problems, with self-selection ensuring that work is most often done by people with a considerable comparative advantage. The forum thus acts as a simple mechanism for aggregating information about comparative advantage. While this mechanism is primitive compared with modern markets, the success of open source is impressive, and the mechanisms for aggregating information about comparative advantage in expert attention will no doubt improve.

Haque on Hacking Economics

And yes, it's all about openness, collaboration and respect:

companies who can build authentic, honest, open, collaborative relationships with consumers are significantly more profitable (and sustainably profitable) than companies who treat consumers deceptively, antagonistically, and manipulatively.

Timeo Danaos....

Perhaps the most neglected pioneer in computing is Ted Nelson, who came up with most of the ideas of hypertext and linking, but got sidetracked for most of his life with the ill-fated Project Xanadu. One of my favourite computing puns is "I fear the geeks bearing gifts". So putting them together is an irresistible combination:

Whether you love the computer world the way it is, or consider it a nightmare honkytonk prison, you'll giggle and rage at Ted Nelson's telling of computer history, its personalities and infights.

Computer movies, music, 3D; the eternal fight between Jobs and Gates; the tangled stories of the Internet and the World Wide Web; all these and more are punchily told in brief chapters on many topics such as The Web Browser Salad, Voting Machines, Google, Web 2.0 and much more. These short stories make great reading – it's a book to dip in and out of.

I have to say that's not exactly the book I would have expected Nelson to write, but then he's full of surprises.... (Via Iterating Towards Openness.)

29 December 2008

Business versus Business

It's pretty obvious why companies in sectors like oil production should be denying so vehemently that their products are major contributors to climate change. It's also pretty clear why many other industries would prefer not to think about the externalities of their business models, and how much they take without replacing from the environmental commons. But there are a few non-green businesses that not only believe climate change and environmental degradation is happening, but that it is large scale - and already hugely expensive:

The past year has been one of the most devastating ever in terms of natural disasters, one of the world's biggest re-insurance companies has said.

Munich Re said the impact of the disasters was greater than in 2007 in both human and economic terms.

The company suggested climate change was boosting the destructive power of disasters like hurricanes and flooding.


"It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity," said Prof Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research.

"The logic is clear: when temperatures increase there is more evaporation and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour, with the result that its energy content is higher.

"The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses."

The company said world leaders must put in place "effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions" to curb climate change and ensure that "future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control".

"If we delay too long, it will be very costly for future generations," said Mr Jeworrek.

Not rabid greenies talking, but hard-headed representatives of a big business sector...

Latvia Spreads a Little Light on Openness

Ever wondered what those Latvians are up to with free software? Wonder no more:

Latvia's Minister for Electronic Government Affairs Signe Bāliņa says open standards are key to improving efficiency and transparency in government.

Open technology and open standards are fundamental to efficient communication with the government, the minister argued in her opening address at the Latvian Open Technology Conference in Riga on 12 November. She said the government needs to use open IT systems to allow citizens and businesses to communicate easily with the government. "We think it is very important these systems are open and based on open technologies and open standards."

The conference in Riga, organised by the Latvian Open Technology Association (LATA), drew more than 250 participants from the central government, municipalities, IT firms and universities. LATA wanted to update the attendants on open source developments in the country and the region.

Several Latvian businesses and institutions described their use of open source software. The telecoms company Lattelecom for example presented on the use of open source in their data centres and the Latvian University showed how it uses the open source e-learning system Moodle to offer on-line education. The university also employs open source for its data storage and to create grid computing services.

There's also interesting stuff about Russia - somewhere I've long believed is set to emerge as an open source leader:

Marat Guriev, a representative of IBM in Eastern Europe and Asia, gave an overview of developments on open source software and open standards in Russia. He described how the Russian military has been working on its own version of GNU/Linux, parts of which have recently been declassified by the All-Russian Scientific and Research Institute of Control Automation in the Non-Industrial Sphere (Vniins). According to Guriev, many specialised version of GNU/Linux distributions are produced, often in response to requests by local governments. In three Russian regions, most of the PCs in use in about a thousand schools have been switched over to GNU/Linux. Moreover, Russian science institutes are publishing their work on open source systems, he said, for example on the web site Linux Testing.

I've written about the activity in Russian schools before. If you read Russian, you can read Guriev's presentation here - it has plenty of useful detail about free software in his country.

Will 2009 Be Open or Closed?

As the end of 2008 approaches, people's thoughts naturally turn to 2009, and what it might hold. The dire economic situation means that many will be wondering what the year will bring in terms of employment and their financial situation. This is not the place to ponder such things, nor am I qualified to do so. Instead, I'd like to discuss a matter that is related to these larger questions, but which focusses on issues particularly germane to Linux Journal: will 2009 be a year in which openness thrives, or one in which closed thinking re-asserts itself?

On Linux Journal.

What's in a Number?

There's been a certain excitement in the blogosphere around the release of some figures about Firefox's market share in Europe. These show Firefox holding over 30%, while Internet Explorer is below 60%; alongside these, Safari notches up 2.5% and Google's Chrome 1.1%....

On Open Enterprise blog.

After Newspapers - Who's Next?

Newspapers are dying - or so you might gather from articles like this....

On Open Enterprise blog.

28 December 2008

BBC, Meet Plughole....

We are grateful to Andrew Pierce for his informative article about how the Foreign Office minister misled parliament with regard to the advertising of the post of Director of the World Service.


To maintain the BBC World Service's reputation and credibility, the new Managing Director must be chosen through a fully open selection process, with full consideration of the availability and qualification of external candidates. In addition, a new managing director must be authoritative in news and current affairs, have wide international perspectives, must be capable of resisting pressure both from the UK government and from other governments and should not believe that the World Service can be founded on the perceived importance of marketing. To impose a closing date for applications of January 4, 2009 is to foreclose all these options.

Read it, and weep.

Torqueing of Monopolies....

I'd seen that Larry Lessig had written another fine rant about intellectual monopolies, this time in Newsweek. What I had missed in my cursory glance was something in the following paragraph:

Since the birth of the Republic, the U.S. government has been in the business of handing out "exclusive rights" (a.k.a., monopolies) in order to "promote progress" or enable new markets of communication. Patents and copyrights accomplish the first goal; giving away slices of the airwaves serves the second. No one doubts that these monopolies are sometimes necessary to stimulate innovation. Hollywood could not survive without a copyright system; privately funded drug development won't happen without patents. But if history has taught us anything, it is that special interests—the Disneys and Pfizers of the world—have become very good at clambering for more and more monopoly rights. Copyrights last almost a century now, and patents regulate "anything under the sun that is made by man," as the Supreme Court has put it. This is the story of endless bloat, with each round of new monopolies met with a gluttonous demand for more.

All good stuff. But what struck me was the "clambering for more": this, surely, was meant to be "clamouring for more". I can't believe someone as eloquent and erudite as Lessig got this wrong, so I can only assume we're looking at a sub-editor attack.

I wonder if it qualifies as an eggcorn?

Western Hypocrisy on Intellectual Monopolies

There is currently a huge bun-fight going on at the WHO over who has the "rights" to "own" key genomic information about pandemic influenza viruses. This is tantamount to arguing over who has the rights to hire out deckchairs on the Titanic as it goes down: the idea that intellectual monopolies have any meaning in a world threatened by hundreds of millions of deaths from a new pandemic strain is beyond obscene.

What makes this spectacle particularly disgusting is the hypocrisy of the West: not content with trying to patent the unpatentable, it wants the developing countries to give up *their* "rights" so that the West's industries can maximise their profit (failing to notice that it is hard to spend all this luvverly profit when you and/or your bankers are dead). Here are some of the sordid details:

Several delegates participating in last week's Intergovernmental Meeting on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (IGM) (under the World Health Organisation) from countries providing influenza viruses to laboratories and manufacturers in developed countries, privately mentioned that the positions taken by developed countries in particular by the US, Japan and the EU on issues such as intellectual property rights and benefit sharing reveals the "double standards" of those countries.

On the one hand, the IGM saw the US, Japan and the EU pushing hard for relinquishment of sovereign rights, an interpretation of the International Health Regulations that obligates the sharing of viruses, text that requires countries to share as "all, as feasible, cases of H5N1 and other influenza viruses with human pandemic potential" with their laboratories in the name of global public health and pandemic preparedness.

However, on the other hand, they appear unwilling to commit in particular their manufacturers and researchers that receive biological materials to any concrete benefit sharing scheme, or to address IP issues in a manner that benefits developing countries' public health and pandemic preparedness. Much of the framework's text that deals with benefit sharing continues to remain in brackets, denoting there is no agreement.

Whenever reference to "manufacturers" and the need to have a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities was made by developing countries at the meeting, the issue was quickly passed over by the Chair of the IGM, Jane Halton from Australia. And countries such as Japan and the US insisted that the framework being developed should not dictate what the manufacturers or the researchers can do with the biological materials, or their roles and responsibilities.

You would have thought that against the background of a financial system brought to its knees by blind greed, at least here at the World *Health* Organisation there would be a more, er, healthy and mature attitude to saving the world from a potentially even greater disaster. Apparently not....

Do We Need a Google Street?

Here's a jolly idea from those wacky burghers of St. Petersburg: some of them want to rename Engels Avenue there to Yandex Avenue, after the leading Russian search engine:

Инициативная группа предложила поменять название проспекта Энгельса на проспект Яндекса, заявив, что классик коммунизма сделал для Петербурга значительно меньше, чем известный поисковый интернет-сервис.

[Via Google Translate: The Action Group has proposed to change the name of Engels on Prospect Avenue Yandex, arguing that communism has done to the classic St. Petersburg is considerably lower than the well-known Internet search service.]

Google Street, anyone?

PC vs. Mobile

One thing that is evident is the continuing emergence of the mobile platform as a real alternative to the traditional PC. The iPhone and Android systems are the clearest manifestation of this. But here's another:

For many Japanese adolescents, cellphone is inseparable partner of their lives, you might have heard. Different from PC, kids can have their own (not-shared with your family/siblings, not filtered by home-broadband), can bring it with you to school, outside, anywhere (it is important when your writing back within 5 minutes to your friend’s mail is the only way to prove your true friendship). The largest Social Network Mixi already got more page views from cellphone than from PC (and #2 Mobage and #3 Gree are mainly on mobile).

Some are said to write their college reports by e-mail on cellphone. (*1) (*2) (*3)

For those cellphone-adapted youth, PC’s QWERTY keyboard does not necessary be the best input device. They had to use PC keyboard fewer times on their computer class, however, 0-to-9 number pads are more familiar, even faster way for them.

If number pads in cellphone order is more convenient, some youth feel easier to use it even for PC. Yes, there are some solutions.

Keiboard+IE is USB external keyboard having cellphone-keypads, mouse-like joy pad and many short cut buttons (for IE, as its name implies).

I do hope it's not *that* IE.....

27 December 2008

Go China?

There's nothing like a mature, balanced view of the world:

2009, Go China!

Lead: Snowstorm, freely falling down to earth, like western values
Lead: Despair fills the sky, ice covers the earth

Lead: Did China retreat?
All: No. The Olympics were a success! We are victorious!
Lead: Hot blood and iron will of Chinese people, lighten up the dark world like burning the holy flame
All: The rivers and mountains, ever more colorful and beautiful

Lead: Earthquakes, shifting back and forth like the positions of Sarkozy, with his dirty tricks, trying to shake the great China
Lead: Did China retreat?
All: No. The Shenzhou-7 launched. We are victorious!
Lead: Pathetic Europe will never stop the insurmountable force of our great dynasty
All: Just the aftershocks from the earthquake would destroy France!

But wait - there's more.....

Unearthing Microsoft's Shilling

Roy's digging has brought to light some interesting, er, hidden treasures:

Several weeks ago we received a public message from James Plamondon, who said:

Roy, et al.,

You’re right. Some of the evangelism practices that I taught and executed at Microsoft in the 1990’s were unethical. I didn’t think so at the time — I thought that they were just hyper-competitive — but I agree now.

I am trying to change the error of my ways. I trust that you will agree that even the most hardened sinner can be redeemed.

Assuming that's true, it should make Plasmondon's blog interesting reading....

Time for a UK Scurvy Dogs Party?

I'll get me cutlass:

When the Swedish Pirate Party was launched three years ago, the majority of the mainstream press viewed them with skepticism, with some simply laughing them away. Times have changed though. As the government works to introduce harsher copyright laws and others that threaten the privacy of Sweden’s citizens, the party is growing stronger and stronger.

In a recent poll, 21 percent of all Swedes indicated that they would consider voting for the Pirate Party in the upcoming European Parliament elections. Among men in the 18-29 age group, this number goes up to a massive 55% - an unprecedented statistic.

24 December 2008

Alan Cox and the End of an Era

In the beginning, free software was an activity conducted on the margins - using spare time on a university's computers, or the result of lonely bedroom hacking. One of the key moments in the evolution of free software was when hackers began to get jobs - often quite remunerative jobs - with one of the new open source companies that sprang up in the late 1990s. For more or less the first time, coders could make a good salary doing what they loved, and businesses could be successful paying them to write code that would be given away.

On Open Enterprise blog.

23 December 2008

In Praise of Whingeing

One of the central lessons to be learned from free software is that individuals can make a difference. Not many would have given Richard Stallman much chance of succeeding when he launched the GNU project, and Linus's efforts to hack his simple terminal program into an operating system kernel would not have struck a dispassionate observer at the time as likely to go very far. And yet, together, they have changed computing, and indirectly the world, as the ideas of freedom, openness and collaboration they helped to pioneer spread to other domains.

So where does that leave people like me, whose last programming consisted of the world's worst Fortran code (don't ask)? I often pose myself that question, and have gradually come to the view that the best thing I can hope to do is to indulge in a little constructive whingeing. Some recent events have strengthened me in this resolve.

On Open Enterprise blog.

22 December 2008

I'm *Not* Linux

One of the most powerful aspects of free software is that its entire approach and mindset is orthogonal to proprietary software. It's not just better, it's profoundly different. That's one of the most important reasons that *everything* Microsoft has thrown against free software has not just failed, but failed dismally. The company can fight and win against more or less any conventional rival, since it has spent years honing its attack methods. But the latter are simply inappropriate when trying to compete against projects that are profoundly non-commercial: the community cannot be bought off or out; nor can it be undercut by selling goods at a loss against it. In fact, it is striking that along with undeniable strengths, the increasing commercialisation of open source has also brought with it vulnerabilities - notably legal ones - as some of free software's angularity has been smoothed down to make it more "acceptable" to enterprises.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Sun Enables Open Source for Accessibility

Free software has tended to serve the leading edge of the computing community - hackers, etc. - first. General users have tended to follow later, and those with access problems after that. That allowed Microsoft to use the relatively poor support for these communities as a stick with which to beat ODF during the early stages of the ODf vs. OOXML battle in Massachusetts. Things have moved on, but it remains true that free software's support for all users, including those with disabilities, has lagged somewhat behind proprietary offerings.

On Open Enterprise blog.

21 December 2008

Serials Crisis, Thy Name is Reed Elsevier

I've noted this before, but here's more info on how evil my former employer is in the sphere of science publishing. Profit margins of around 30%...bring on the OA.

20 December 2008

RIAA Gets...Cunning

People seem to be jumping to all the wrong conclusions on this:

After years of suing thousands of people for allegedly stealing music via the Internet, the recording industry is set to drop its legal assault as it searches for more effective ways to combat online music piracy.

The decision represents an abrupt shift of strategy for the industry, which has opened legal proceedings against about 35,000 people since 2003. Critics say the legal offensive ultimately did little to stem the tide of illegally downloaded music. And it created a public-relations disaster for the industry, whose lawsuits targeted, among others, several single mothers, a dead person and a 13-year-old girl.

Think that the RIAA is getting sensible? Think again: it's just getting clever:

Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America said it plans to try an approach that relies on the cooperation of Internet-service providers. The trade group said it has hashed out preliminary agreements with major ISPs under which it will send an email to the provider when it finds a provider's customers making music available online for others to take.

Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.

Yup, it's that old favourite: three strikes and you're out...

18 December 2008


Jeremy Zawodny, ex-Yahoo, currently at Craigslist, is generally regarded as one of the gurus of the MySQL world. His recent thoughts on the evolution of that project – called, significantly, “The New MySQL Landscape” - are therefore particularly interesting, not least because it uses the “f”-word: fork....

On Open Enterprise blog.

17 December 2008

Goodbye, Frozen North Pole

And just in time for Christmas:

Perhaps the most visible sign of climate change is the Arctic's shrinking sea ice cover. Concerns are growing that we are reaching a point at which the transition to an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer becomes a rapid one.


Even our early climate-change models developed in the late 1970s told us that the Arctic would suffer most from the surface warming that came with adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and that this would be intimately tied to the shrinking of its sea ice cover.

This is called Arctic amplification and when we look at our climate records, that is exactly what we see: the climate warming, with the strongest rises in temperature in the Arctic, and those rises linked to the loss of sea ice cover – just as projected 30 years ago.

In other words, even the crudest climate-change models worked quite well here - something that those who cling to the hope that they are "only" models might like to bear in the mind for the future.... (Via DeSmogBlog.)

UK Businesses Indifferent to Intellectual Monopolies

Here's some interesting research from the UK government:

New research commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office's IP Crime Group shows that many businesses are not doing anything to ensure they protect their intellectual property. This is despite an overwhelming majority of businesses understanding the need to protect intellectual property....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Penguins Model Climate Change

A scientific project that will help govern how the European Commission tackles climate change is relying on Linux and the Géant academic grid to complete its vital work.

The Millennium Simulations, an earth modelling venture at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, will allow scientists to model the changes in the world's climate over the last millennium as well as centuries into the future.

By factoring in human influences on carbon, including changes in land use, as well as natural phenomena including volcanic activity, the Millennium Simulations will provide an insight into how the earth's climate will change over the coming decades and centuries.

It's this information that will go towards informing the next assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body whose information is fed to the highest levels of government to help them make decisions on the environment.

Open source *and* better climate change modelling - what's not to like?

*Don't* © the Future

Here's yet another UK consultation on intellectual monopolies:

David Lammy, Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, has launched a wide-ranging consultation by the Intellectual Property Office on the future direction of copyright. The aim is to ensure that the copyright system properly supports creativity, promotes investment and jobs while also inspiring the confidence of businesses and of users (as being fair and reasonable). In building a long term vision and supporting our creative industries, we need to think beyond our national borders and consider the global future of copyright.

Given that the UK Government is ignoring its own Gowers Review in favour of giving in to emotional blackmail by ageing popstars, there seems little point in responding - but I probably will anyway....

Stop Software Patents in Europe

I've written a number of times about the unsatisfactory state of software patents in Europe – theoretically forbidden, but in practice, frequently sneaking in by the back door. Now there's a petition calling for greater legal clarity....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Making the Connection

When the following press release arrived, my heart beat a little faster....

On Open Enterprise blog.

16 December 2008

Yoruba: Free Software's Shame

One of the advantages of free software that I've often touted is the ability to produce localised versions in situations where Microsoft would find the market too small. But it seems that Microsoft is waking up to some languages that free software is neglecting:

A post on the Yoruba Affairs newsgroup, which I subscribe to, recently announced that (a draft of?) the Yoruba Glossary for Microsoft's Language Interface Pack has just been released, as a partnership between ALT-i and Microsoft Unlimited Potential (whose acronym is, of course, "UP", not "MUP"). At 196 pages and 2000-3000 terms, this is a substantial document.

And there's worse news:

In response to my 2004 post about the confused NYT article, Bill Poser added some background about localization efforts in general, and registered a complaint about Microsoft "not localizing their software when they didn't see enough profit in it". But in fairness to Microsoft, they've had a large and effective localization effort for many years. They've certainly done much more than other computer companies have done, and in this case, perhaps more than the free software community has done.


The post also talks about Wazobia Linux:

a distribution with (some programs?) localized in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. But it is apparently not actually free — only a demo version can be downloaded from the company's site, and those interested in the full version are invited to contact the company by email to discuss prices. The "where to buy" link is "currently under construction", and the Wazobia page at DistroWatch.com characterized this distribution as "dormant". I don't know of any other Linux distributions with a significant amount of localization in Yoruba — for example, the Yoruba pages for KDE localization and for Mandriva Tools localization don't show very much progress.

Now, I've managed to find some ISO images of Wazobia, but it's not clear whether they are full or demos: does anyone know? I'm reluctant to download the images, since I'm conscious that I would probably be clogging up the site's link to Europe, which it might have better uses for.

Anyway, it certainly looks like free software needs to pull up its Yoruban socks if we don't want to lose an entire dialect continuum to Microsoft....

Spot the Disconnect

On the one hand, we have a bunch of people I've never heard of whingeing in the Times:

We are very concerned that the successes of the creative industries in the UK are being undermined by the illegal online file-sharing of film and TV content. At a time when so many jobs are being lost in the wider economy, it is especially important that this issue be taken seriously by the Government and that it devotes the resources necessary to enforce the law.

In 2007, an estimated 98 million illegal downloads and streams of films took place in the UK, while it is believed that more than six million people illegally file-share regularly. In relation to illegal downloads of TV programmes, the UK is the world leader, with up to 25 per cent of all online TV piracy taking place in the UK. Popular shows are downloaded illegally hundreds of thousands of times per episode.

On the other, we have this perceptive comment from TorrentFreak:

when just this year it was reported that UK commercial TV broadcasters “enjoyed a bumper April with the highest viewing figures in five years”, that total TV viewing was up 10% year-on-year, and “the valuable yet hard-to-reach 16 to 24-year-old demographic [i.e the typical file-sharer] watched 4.9% more commercial TV in April year-on-year and saw 12% more ads,” you have to wonder exactly what the problem is.

So how do we reconcile those? Well, could it be, dear Times whingers, that the Internet actually *drives* traffic to your precious films and TV programmes, whatever they are? Could it be that the Internet is actually going to keep you all employed and so fraffly well-paid?

Learning from Education

Last week I went along to the Westminster Education Forum. The programme was only peripherally concerned with open source – Mark Taylor from Sirius was talking – but I wanted to get a feel for the context in which computers were being used in schools. As well as Mark, there was a representative from Microsoft: no surprise there, but what was very noticeable was the way that Microsoft's software was simply a given in the educational context. This is extremely unfortunate, at many levels...

On Open Enteprise blog.

Abandon Hope, All Ye (IE) Users

Interesting that when the BBC dares to carry a negative story about Microsoft, it immediately becomes the most-read and most-emailed - perhaps they should do it more often:

Users of the world's most common web browser have been advised to switch to another browser until a serious security flaw has been fixed.

Good advice, by why only until fixed: surely, the logical thing to do would be to abandon IE altogether, thus avoiding future problems too?

15 December 2008

Good for Gowers

When the Gowers Review on intellectual monopolies came out almost exactly two years ago, it was remarkable for its eminently sensible approach, which was rigorously based on hard-headed economics. One of its key recommendations was the following....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Environmental Evo

Everything began with the industrial revolution in 1750, which gave birth to the capitalist system. In two and a half centuries, the so called “developed” countries have consumed a large part of the fossil fuels created over five million centuries.

Yup, it's all Britain's fault....

The Rise and Rise of Asianux

The free software organisation Asianux continues to grow in importance:

Viet Nam has officially become a member of Asianux, an organisation dedicated to the development of free software, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Tran Quoc Thang has announced.


Over the past four years, Viet Nam has adopted policies designed to encourage the development and application of the OSS, resulting in a total of between 14,000 and 20,000 personal computers using OpenOffice, Firefox, Unikey and other free software.


Prior to Viet Nam joining Asianux, its membership consisted of Japan, China and South Korea.

(Via LXer.)

Setting Standards

As the world of computing moves to embrace openness in all its forms, open standards are becoming increasingly important – and the battles over them increasingly dirty, as the OOXML standardisation process has shown. One of the most vexed issues within open standards is the place of patents....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Wot Police State?

Papers acquired by the Liberal Democrats via Freedom of Information requests show that the 1,500 officers policing the Kingsnorth climate camp near the Medway estuary in Kent, suffered only 12 reportable injuries during the protest during August.

The Home Office has now admitted that the protesters had not been responsible for any injuries. In a three-line written answer to a parliamentary question, the Home Office minister Vernon Coaker wrote to the Lib Dem justice spokesman, David Howarth, saying: "Kent police have informed the Home Office that there were no recorded injuries sustained as a result of direct contact with the protesters."

Only four of the 12 reportable injuries involved any contact with protesters at all and all were at the lowest level of seriousness with no further action taken.

The other injuries reported included "stung on finger by possible wasp"; "officer injured sitting in car"; and "officer succumbed to sun and heat". One officer cut his arm on a fence when climbing over it, another cut his finger while mending a car, and one "used leg to open door and next day had pain in lower back".

Keep up the good work, Jacqui.

14 December 2008

Sussing Climate Change Sceptics

I have a big problem with climate change sceptics: I just do no understand how they can maintain their position in the face of overwhelming evidence from overwhelming numbers of overwhleming well-qualified scientists.

It's as if several hundred doctors, all acknowledged experts in their field, tell you that you are seriously ill, and must do something or you will die, and you say: "Well, I'm sorry, I just happen to disagree. I think you're all telling me this just to provide work for yourselves. And besides, I've found three doctors who tell me I'm fine."

Now, would anyone seriously take that attitude when it came to their own health, or of their family? I think not; so why would anyone take this view when it comes to humanity - that is, *every* family on this planet?

Well, here's one stab at explaining this literally suicidal state of affairs:

I do think that lots of potentially reachable people like my lawyer friend genuinely don't understand the difference between what happens in a scientific debate and what happens in a political one. And especially when such people are on the political right, they tend to suspect that the climatologists' global-overwarming consensus is not really settled science, but is only a sort of fairly well reasoned technical conjecture.They tend to think it probably has some merit, but that it requires caution because it's distorted by a political desire to multiply the power of federal economic planners who'll limit the natural workings of free markets. They see scientists and government officials as an interrelated elite with a closed outlook and a definite agenda....

Interesting: politics as kind of conceptual poison that taints people's world-views. I hope the rest of the analysis quoted in the post above turns out to be just as perceptive.

Weighing Up the Internet Watch Foundation

Wise words from Mike Godwin, chief counsel to the Wikimedia Foundation:

Even though we won this particular censorship skirmish, it bears repeating that the IWF signifies a very problematic approach to content control by governments, including, sadly, the United Kingdom. Not only is the process obscure, transparent, arbitrary, and capricious, but also, because the IWF is not itself a governmental entity, it is essentially unaccountable to the public it is supposed to be serving. That is something that citizens in the UK and elsewhere may feel requires some reform.

12 December 2008

ID Card Support Shrinking, Says UK Government

The latest Home Office poll on public attitudes to the planned National ID card indicates that support for the scheme has eroded slightly, with the proportion of those in favour down from 60 to 55 per cent.

The survey, carried out among 2,098 randomly selected Brits from 31 October to 4 November, showed opposition to the Card remaining steady. Seventeen per cent of respondents disagreed strongly with the plans and 9 per cent slightly, up from August by a single percentage point each.

The top reason given for disagreeing with the card stayed the same - that it would interfere with personal freedom. Other common objections were that the scheme was unnecessary, wouldn't work, and would be a waste of money.

Twenty-three per cent of those disagreeing also said that the government could not be trusted to keep personal data secure, up from 19 per cent in August. Before August's survey this concern wasn't cited often enough to figure in the results, reflecting the rash of data-loss scandals suffered this year.

Come on, put this beast out of its agony.

GPL Violations: Is Cisco the Big One?

Many sceptics were convinced that as free software spread out beyond hackers into the general computing sector the rigorous GNU GPL licence would gradually be replaced by more accommodating – meaning weaker – forms, since it was “obvious” that its unbending rules were too strict for widespread use. In fact, the GPL has grown in importance, until today it is probably fair to say that it underpins most of the free software world, including enterprise applications. This makes any violation of its terms particularly worrying, because if left unchallenged, it threatens to undermine the entire ecosystem.

On Linux Journal.

11 December 2008

Brazil Seeks 150,000 GNU/Linux Notebooks for 300 Schools

Once again, Brazil showing itself at the forefront of open source use in schools:

Depois de uma licitação realizada, mas não consumada, no final de 2007, o Ministério da Educação e Cultura (MEC) marcou para o dia 17 de dezembro um novo pregão eletrônico para a compra de 150 mil notebooks voltados à educação, com os quais espera equipar 300 escolas públicas.


O edital não dá base de preço, só as especificações da máquina, que incluem sistema operacional Linux instalado e configurado, manual em português, memória RAM de no mínimo 512 MB e tela de cristal líquido de no mínimo 7 polegadas. A máquina ainda deve ter requisitos de segurança e ser resistente a choques e quedas, além de ser confortável para o transporte pelas crianças.

[Via Google Translate: After a bidding held, but not consummated at the end of 2007, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) to mark the day on December 17 a new electronic bidding for the purchase of 150 thousand notebooks aimed at education, which expects equip 300 public schools.


The announcement does not give a basis of price, only the specifications of the machine, which includes Linux operating system installed and configured, manual in Portuguese, at a minimum of RAM and 512 MB screen liquid crystal at least 7 inches. The machine also must have security requirements and be resistant to shocks and falls, besides being comfortable to carry the children.]

It will be interesting to see who wins this contract, since it could well influence others looking to roll out large numbers of GNU/Linux notebooks.

Open Me Kangaroo Up, Sport

Having had their plan to combine their broadband TV services kyboshed by the Competition Commmission, the BBC and ITV today said they plan to do it anyway - but this time to open up the infrastructure to all comers.

The two broadcasters, along with BT, said they want to foster a "common industry approach" that's "open for all public service broadcasters, device developers and other ISPs". All this will be founded upon "a standards based open environment".

Yes, but *how* open?

Ecuador Update

I wrote earlier this year about the rapid uptake of free software in Ecuador, which adds to the growing use of open source across Latin America. Here's a useful report on a Congress on Free Software and Democratisation of Knowledge held in Quito recently, which provides plenty of info on what's happening in that part of the world:

Ecuador started later than other South America countries to promote official adoption of Free Software, but it’s doing the best it can to catch up. A recent presidential decree demands that many central Public Administration migrate to use exclusively Free Software. This was one of the first thing we heard in the opening speech. In the same occasion, Fr Filiberto Gonzalez Plascencia, Salesian Councillor for Social Communication, pointed out how Salesians want to promote Free/Open Source software because of the important role it can play in the democratization of knowledge and in “educommunication” or education to communication, both fields where they want to play an active role. Even in the closing speech Dr Edgar Loyola, Vice Rector of UPS, renewed the committment of the University for the spread of the knowledge and use of Free Software.

Source Code for Civilisation

Simon Phipps points out the centrality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

This document is one of the most important documents created in the 20th century, delimiting the unarguable rights of every person, and doing it in in cool, clear prose. Flowing out of revulsion at the excesses of the Second World War, it sets a benchmark that is still vibrantly relevant to world society. For example, it makes clear that the Guantanamo concentration camp that the US is still running is abhorrent (see articles 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 - even arguing articles 3 and 28 implicitly allow it is dealt with in article 30). It casts light on the US wiretaps and the UK's surveillance society (article 12 supported by articles 7 and 11), on the TSA (article 13), on internet filtering (articles 18 & 19) and on so many more issues.

The more I look at it, the more convinced I am that this visionary document, born from the lessons humanity wanted to learn after the horrors of 1939-45, is a source text that can guide so much we're all trying to achieve. As we're working on the future, be it Web 2.0, rebuilding our political life in the west or freedom for Tibet, I'm struck that the Declaration is a primary source document against which to measure our intent and action.

Nice to see that Tibet is not forgotten.

Standing up to the Bully-Boy Lawyers

Davenport Lyons have engaged in such morally-repugnant behaviour that they are fast becoming one of the worst possible advertisments for their profession. At last, someone is calling their bluff:

Lawyers for the consumer rights lobby Which? have filed an official complaint to the body that regulates solicitors over Davenport Lyons' campaign of letters alleging illegal filesharing.

For several months Davenport Lyons has been sending letters to individuals accusing them of pirating videogames via peer-to-peer networks, and demanding £500 on behalf of rights holders. The London-based law firm recently branched out into threats on behalf of producers of hardcore gay porn.

Now Which?, formerly known as the Consumers' Association, has reported Davenport Lyons to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Announcing the move, Which? said it had drawn regulators' attention to the detail of Davenport Lyons' letters. The complaint includes claims they "make incorrect assertions about the nature of copyright infringement; ignore the evidence presented in defence; and increase the level of compensation claimed over the period of correspondence".

The only positive aspect of this sordid case is that Davenport Lyons are bringing the whole idea of enforcing copyright into such disrepute that the general public will turn against it sooner rather than later.

Update: If you should be unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of any of this, there's great advice here about what to do.

HP Adds Some Open Source to the Desktop

Now that Dell is offering a range of desktop systems, HP has become the most important supplier wedded to Windows Vista. Its resistance to offering GNU/Linux there is rather ironic, since it was one of the pioneers in the GNU/Linux world nearly ten years ago. In January 1999 a press release stated....

On Open Enterprise blog.

World Bank Botches it Again

When is this apology for an international body going to sort itself out - or be shut down?

The World Bank has been in a hurry to get its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) up and running, meaning that the process to date has been "rushed" and "corners have been cut," according to a new report by scientists from the Forests and the European Union Resource Network (FERN) and the Forest Peoples Programme.


The report points out that while various scientists and research organisations have identified recognition of indigenous peoples' tenure rights as an essential first step for an effective REDD mechanism, the issue has been neglected. None of the country notes explicitly deal with the need to clarify land ownership, nor do they address human rights issues, it laments.

Moreover, the scientists find that the notes do not require 'Free, Prior and Informed Consent', a concept recognised in international law as mandatory for any project affecting indigenous and tribal peoples. They also claim that the REDD process failed to consult local peoples and civil society organisations.

Hence the report argues that the FCPF promotes centralised planning, and is thus in danger of repeating the mistakes of past experiments with centralised forest management strategies. This would lead to increased deforestation and corruption, pushing local communities into poverty and alienating them from their land, it concludes.

Not so much World Bank as Worse Bank.

A Different View of Viewdle

Viewdle is a company that has been winning plaudits recently; I'm not so sure:

Viewdle is a facial-recognition powered digital media platform for indexing, searching and monetizing video assets. Viewdle automatically looks inside the video, frame-by-frame, to create a real-time index of true on-screen appearances with unrivaled accuracy and relevance. With multiple patents in preparation, we are quickly building the world’s largest people-in-video reference database.

"Monetizing video assets"? "Multiple patents"? Great. But I'm sure the British government will be interested in all that facial-recognition technology in order to build its own people-in-video reference database, and thus screw down UK society even more....

10 December 2008

UN Accredits Blogger for First Time

A good one, too:

After two days of deliberations, the United Nations officials at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland, agreed to give media accreditation to the DeSmogBlog, the first time in history that the UN has accredited a blog, according to UNFCCC Public Information and Media Assistant Carrie Assheuer.

"It was quote the ordeal," said DeSmogBlog Editor Richard Littlemore. "The UN system is set up to accommodate mainstream media and it's not an institution that's designed to be flexible or innovative."

Let's hope it's the first of many.

What Shall We Do About Software Patents?

One of the central issues facing free software around the world is what can be done about the threat of software patents. These are fundamentally incompatible with free software, since patents are about enclosing the intellectual commons – giving ideas an owner - and free software is about expanding it for all to enjoy by sharing ideas. But the particular challenges are quite different in different jurisdictions....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Analogue Steganography

Steganography is about hiding stuff in such as way that it isn't even apparent stuff is hidden. For example, you might change predetermined pixels in a digital image so as to encode a hidden message, but not in such a way as to be obvious to anyone looking at said pic.

That's clever, but this is even more clever: a USB drive that doesn't look like a USB drive.

* 2GB flash drive cleverly disguised as a frayed and broken USB cable
* Easily transfer and store files, photos and music
* USB 2.0 with 1.1 backwards compatibility
* Mac, Windows and Linux compatible, of course

(Via Bruce Schneier.)

Is this Google's ActiveX Disaster?

I remember very well the days in the mid 1990s when it became clear that Microsoft's ActiveX technology, which grew out of OLE, a way for creating compound documents, was essentially the world's greatest browser malware construction kit. Since then, ActiveX exploits have probably caused more harm in the Windows world than any other aspect of Microsoft's flawed platform. So it is with some consternation that I find that Google seems to have learned nothing from history....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Someone Once Told Me...About CC Licences

I'm a big fan of black and white photography. Without the distraction of colours, it seems to me that you look more deeply at the image. Anyway, any site predicated on black and white photos is good; this one, called "Someone Once Told Me", is even better, not least because most images were shot in London:

Black and white photographs

A new one every day

Each person writes a message

Of something that someone once told them

What did someone tell you?

The short, untethered messages are positively surreal.

Just one problem: all the images are

copyright SOTM ©2008

This is a site crying out to be shared freely. Perhaps someone should tell its creator about Creative Commons licences... (Via Londonist.)

The Impact Mozilla Challenge

One of the reasons that Mozilla is so important is that it is at the forefront of open source marketing – using the community to help move the project forward and to increase uptake. Here's the latest wheeze: the Impact Mozilla Challenge...

On Open Enterprise blog.

Watching the Internet Watch Foundation

As you've probably heard, the Wikipedia page censored by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is now freely available again....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Their Brain on Windows

Helios is one of free software's heroes. Here's something rather extraordinary from his blog:

This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.

"...observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows. Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..."

Don't try this at home, children.

Update: Interesting follow-up from Helios here.

09 December 2008

Open John Milton

Happy Birthday, John baby:

The 9th of December 2008 is John Milton's 400th birthday. To celebrate this life-long advocate of liberty we've officially launched 'Open Milton' – an open set of Milton's works, together with ancillary information and tools, in a form designed for reuse.

Here you can find the Open Milton web interface. This site provides access to many, but by no means all, of the facilities of the Open Milton package. For example you can:

* Read a variety of texts (prose, poems etc) as well as ancillary material
* Compare two parts of the same text side-by-side
* Analyze text or word statistics
* Search any text

(Via Open Access News.)

*Not* the Facebook Virus

Facebook's 120 million users are being targeted by a virus designed to get hold of sensitive information like credit card details.

'Koobface' spreads by sending a message to people's inboxes, pretending to be from a Facebook friend.

It says "you look funny in this new video" or "you look just awesome in this new video".

By clicking on the link provided they're then asked to watch a "secret video by Tom".

When users try and play the video they're asked to download the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

If they do, that's when the virus takes hold and attacks the computer.

But only, of course, if they're stupid enough to use Windows (which the story - once again - somehow fails to mention.) Oh, and BTW, it's a worm, not a virus.


Update: At least Charles gets it right.

08 December 2008

IBM Snuggles up to Ubuntu (Again)

The announcement last week of a “Microsoft-free” desktop solution from IBM has naturally been garnering headlines, in part because it's a re-invention of the IBM's favourite, the palaeolithic dumb terminal, recast as a trendy virtual desktop....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Welcome to Great (Firewall) Britain

Most Internet users have heard of the Great Firewall of China – the technological measures put in place by the Chinese government to censor material from outside the country, and to monitor Internet usage within it. And most people have probably assumed that this is just a typical manifestation of an authoritarian regime that insists on keeping a tight control on its people. Alas, it turns out that any sense of superiority we Brits might feel is entirely misplaced, because exactly the same thing is happening in the UK....

On Open Enterprise blog.

06 December 2008

NYT Has Clue about Malware

Following my post below about malware, here's an example of how it might be done:

Internet security is broken, and nobody seems to know quite how to fix it.

Despite the efforts of the computer security industry and a half-decade struggle by Microsoft to protect its Windows operating system, malicious software is spreading faster than ever. The so-called malware surreptitiously takes over a PC and then uses that computer to spread more malware to other machines exponentially. Computer scientists and security researchers acknowledge they cannot get ahead of the onslaught.

Macintosh is mentioned, but GNU/Linux is not, so the piece isn't perfect, but it's a start.

05 December 2008

Misinformed about Malware

I was moaning recently about the appalling sloppiness when it comes to viruses et al.: they are practically all for Windows, and yet nobody mentions this fact. Here are two more egregious examples.


Researchers at BitDefender have discovered a new type of malicious software that collects passwords for banking sites but targets only Firefox users.

The malware, which BitDefender dubbed "Trojan.PWS.ChromeInject.A" sits in Firefox's add-ons folder, said Viorel Canja, the head of BitDefender's lab. The malware runs when Firefox is started.

The malware uses JavaScript to identify more than 100 financial and money transfer Web sites, including Barclays, Wachovia, Bank of America, and PayPal along with two dozen or so Italian and Spanish banks. When it recognizes a Web site, it will collect logins and passwords, forwarding that information to a server in Russia.

Firefox has been continually gaining market share against main competitor Internet Explorer since its debut four years ago, which may be one reason why malware authors are looking for new avenues to infect computers, Canja said.

Bad, wicked Firefox, bad wicked open source...except that this trojan *only* works on Windows...which means it's bad wicked Windows, yet again. But the article never mentions this, of course.

Or take this:

BATTLEFIELD bandwidth is low at best, making networks sticky and e-mails tricky. American soldiers often rely on memory sticks to cart vital data between computers. Off-duty, they use the same devices to move around music and photos. The dangers of that have just become apparent with the news that the Pentagon has banned the use of all portable memory devices because of the spread of a bit of malicious software called agent.btz.


The most remarkable feature of the episode may not be the breach of security, but the cost of dealing with it. In the civilian world, at least one bank has dealt with agent.btz by blocking all its computers’ USB ports with glue. Every bit of portable memory in the sprawling American military establishment now needs to be scrubbed clean before it can be used again. In the meantime, soldiers will find it hard or outright impossible to share, say, vital digital maps, let alone synch their iPods or exchange pictures with their families.

And yes, you guessed it, it only works on Windows. So that bit about "[t]he most remarkable feature of the episode may not be the breach of security, but the cost of dealing with it" is really about the cost of using Windows - well, it's The Economist, what do you expect, accuracy? When will they ever learn?

Ingres Paints a Rosy Picture

If you have a good memory, you might recall a 2003 research paper from Goldman Sachs called “Fear the Penguin”....

On Open Enterprise blog.

04 December 2008

"War" on File-Sharing is like "War" on Drugs

What I find most striking about Tom’s post is that advocates of copyright maximalism are becoming increasingly candid about the tensions between their vision of copyright law and traditional civil liberties like privacy and due process of law. Patrick is right that the war on file sharing is like the war on drugs: there’s just no way to stop it without shredding our civil liberties in the process.

The parallel is a good one: just as the "war" on drugs is a total failure - putting millions needlessly in jail, costing billions, and succeeding only in boosting criminal activity - so a "war" on file sharing will be utterly disproportionate, and utterly futile.

Microsoft's Tired TCO Toffee

Those with good memories may recall a phase that Microsoft went through in which it issued (and generally commissioned) a stack of TCO studies that “proved” Windows was better/cheaper than GNU/Linux. Of course, they did nothing of the sort, since the methodology was generally so flawed you could have proved anything.

I'd thought that even Microsoft had recognised that this was a very weak form of attack, so I was surprised to come across this....

On Open Enterprise blog.

03 December 2008

2020 FLOSS Roadmap and Looking Forward

Making predictions is hard - especially about the future, as the saying goes. Against this background, I had low expectations of the “2020 FLOSS Roadmap”, which came out of the recent Open World Forum in Paris....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Be Afraid, Credit Card, Be Very Afraid

Amazon.co.uk has finally opened its DRM-free Mp3 store. Prices aren't that wonderful (yet), but the convenience is dangerously appealing.... (Via paidContent.)

German Federal Government to Support ODF

Nicht slecht:

Der IT-Rat der Bundesregierung hat beschlossen, das offene Dokumentenformat ODF (ISO 26300) in der Bundesverwaltung schrittweise einzusetzen.

Staatssekretär Dr. Hans Bernhard Beus, Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Informationstechnik und Vorsitzender des IT-Rats, bezeichnete die Entscheidung als „wichtigen Schritt, um den Wettbewerb zwischen den Software-Herstellern zu fördern, die IT-Sicherheit zu stärken und die Interoperabilität zu verbessern, denn offene Dokumentenformate werden vollständig und regelmäßig veröffentlicht.“

Bürgern, Unternehmen und anderen Verwaltungen wird damit künftig der Dokumentenaustausch mit der Bundesverwaltung auch im ODF-Format eröffnet. Die Behörden des Bundes werden spätestens ab Anfang 2010 in der Lage sein, diese Dokumente zu empfangen und zu versenden, zu lesen und auch zu bearbeiten.

[Via Google Translate: The IT Council of the Federal Government has decided to open the document format ODF (ISO 26300) in the federal administration only gradually.

State Secretary Dr. Hans Bernhard Beus, Federal Government for Information Technology and chairman of the IT Council, described the decision as "a major step to increase competition among software vendors to promote the IT security and strengthen the interoperability to improve because open document formats will be fully and regularly published."

Citizens, businesses and other administrations will enable future exchange of documents with the federal administration in the ODF format opened. The federal authorities are beginning no later than 2010 in a position to provide this documentation to receive and send, read and edit.]

The move will be rather slow and circumspect (well, this is Germany), and there's also the danger that OOXML will get a look-in, too, now that it nominally "open" (thanks for nothing, ISO). Still, on the whole this announcement is a good message to send to German citizens and to other governments.

The Great Virus Con-Trick

I'm glad I'm not the only one to have cottoned on to this strange phenomenon:

Ever notice how Microsoft plasters the Windows name on everything it can reach? Splash screens, stickers on computers, and advertising everywhere. There is no escaping it. Except when it's yet another malware outbreak-- then all the news organizations go inexplicably deaf, dumb, and blind, as this latest story demonstrates

The thing is, news outlets practically never mention that these scary big virus outbreaks are *Windows" viruses, as if viruses were some abstract entity.

The tech press goes berserk at every utterance from Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates, and every word emitted by the Redmond PR machine is dutifully repeated and canonized. Except in stories like these. The article is brief and doesn't give much information, and it links to two other lengthier news stories that are just as befuddled.

Only they're not befuddled-- it looks to me like they are deliberately not saying that the affected systems are Windows systems. Check out this clever phrasing:

"Our military is dependent upon commodity desktops whose software shares an enormous amount of DNA with systems that sit on every workplace in the planet."

Now who do you suppose they are referring to? Apple? Ubuntu? AmigaOS? Solaris? FreeBSD?


The Muddle Kingdom

You would have thought this represented a real opportunity for free software:

Nanchang, the capital of China's eastern Jiangxi province, has required Internet cafe operators to replace pirated server software with licensed versions. Cafes that don't will lose their license to operate, but some are grumbling about the cost of installing legitimate software.


"We recommend the use of Red Flag Linux server operating system or Microsoft Windows Server operating system," said the directive issued by Nanchang's Cultural Department on Oct. 22.

But even against this apparently favourably background, things are not all sweet and lightness:

As part of Nanchang's crackdown on pirated software, officials apparently struck a deal with a local Red Flag Linux distributor to install licensed software and provide two years of support for 5,000 yuan (US$725).

Which seems steep. No wonder, then, that:

Some Internet cafe owners were unhappy with the fee, and complained they are prevented from using other Linux distributions.

"You have to install Red Flag Linux, and pay 5,000 yuan," complained one user on the Jiangxi discussion forum (in Chinese). "If you are using a different Linux distribution, they just say it's pirated!"

Someone hasn't quite got the hang of this free software stuff, apparently.

Tell Us What You *Really* Think, Craig....

Some fine outrage from our ex-man in Tashkent:

I still do believe that we will come to recover from the terrible poison of the New Labour years, and return to being a liberal society. We will look back at all this as Americans now look back at McCarthyism, with horror and shame. And when historians write the history of these times, there will be a special footnote devoted to the infamous, the disgraceful, the appalling Sir Michael Wright.

This in reference to Wright's extraordinary instruction to the jury at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes that it will not be able to consider a verdict of unlawful killing.

Er, why might that be, Mike baby? Aren't open societies supposed to leave this kind of decision to the jury, rather than being directed by the powers that be? You know, that's why we have juries....

What Open Source Can Learn From Open Access

Peter Suber's indispensable SPARC Open Access Newsletter, whose latest issue has just appeared, contains some interesting thoughts of relevance to the open source world.

For example, here are Suber's thoughts on the important NIH open access policy, which, though amazingly mild in OA terms, is being fiercely resisted by publishers:

The NIH policy covers so much literature in biomedicine (80,000 peer reviewed articles per year), and the compliance rate is climbing so quickly, that its opponents have little time left before even they will have to accommodate it. Its success is moving up the dinosaur moment when TA publishers must adapt or refuse to publish NIH-funded research. Most have already adapted, of course, a fact that tends to be lost in the protests of the publishing lobby. But the clock is ticking for those who hate the idea of adapting. This matters. While publishers have the money to lobby against government OA policies forever, the question is becoming moot as the policy's friends grow in number and power and as its opponents revise their own policies to live with it.

The lesson here is that it's very hard to argue against something that is manifestly successful. This makes projects like Firefox critical showcases for free software, to say nothing of GNU/Linux.

Even before the crisis, library budgets were growing more slowly than inflation and much more slowly than journal prices. Now they will slow further or shrink. Libraries will cancel larger percentages of their serials subscriptions than they have in decades. That will reduce access to the TA literature, which will strengthen the case for OA among researchers, librarians, and administrators.

At the same time, it will reduce revenues for TA publishers and strengthen the case for OA on their side as well. It may not cause many TA journals to convert to OA, in 2009, but it will add pressure. The more library budgets are constrained, the more it looks like a losing game to compete for shrinking library dollars, especially to society journals excluded from the nearly impervious big deals. If TA publishers found OA journal business models unattractive a few years ago, one reason was that subscription models still looked better. But the balance of attraction has to change as the odds of survival under a subscription model decline, roughly the way clean and renewable sources of energy become more attractive as oil becomes more expensive. Moreover, a few years ago OA publishers were too new to be profitable, and today at least three are reporting profits, including BMC (even before the Springer acquisition), which is based in expensive London. When contemplating their options in the face of declining subscriptions, publishers can no longer dismiss the OA alternative as untested or insufficient.

Replace "libraries" by "companies", and "publishers" by "software companies", and the parallels with the world of enterprise open source are clear. Again, the lesson is that once there are established successes in the world of open source companies, the hypothetical problems raised begin to look pointlessly theoretical.

Overall, then, the message is that in the world of openness, it gets better as things get better. Heartening stuff.

02 December 2008

Principles for an Open Transition

Talking of openness and Obama:

President-elect Obama has made a clear commitment to changing the way government relates to the People. His campaign was a demonstration of the value in such change, and a glimpse of its potential. His transition team has now taken a crucial step in making the work of the transition legally shareable, demonstrating that the values Obama spoke of are values that will guide his administration.

To further support this commitment to change, and to help make it tangible, we offer three “open transition principles” to guide the transition in its use of the Internet to produce the very best in open government.

That openness meme is certainly getting popular.

Why Copyright, O Canada?

Over on the Open Enterprise blog, I have been extolling the virtues of James Boyle's new book, The Public Domain. I still urge you to read it (freely available here), but recognise that not everyone has the time (or energy) to snuggle down with 300 pages of deep meditation on intellectual monopolies.

For those of you who want something a little more, er, oyster-like in terms of slipping down the cognitive gullet, can I also recommend this video from the irrepressible Michael Geist?

Although it's entitled "Why Copyright? Canadian Voices on Copyright Law", and it's largely about the battle to stop Canada making the same mistakes as the US (and Europe) by bringing in its own DMCA, the issues it raises apply around the world. And it's refreshing to hear all the old arguments I and others have been peddling for a while from a fresh bunch of talking heards.

Openness We Can Believe In

Of course, no danger of any of this dangerous "21st century" openness cropping up here in the UK:

President-elect Obama has championed the creation of a more open, transparent, and participatory government. To that end, Change.gov adopted a new copyright policy this weekend. In an effort to create a vibrant and open public conversation about the Obama-Biden Transition Project, all website content now falls under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

(With thanks to Alan Lord for reminding me this deserves to be highlighted.)

No Longer Wireless-less

Now that open source has largely overcome its earlier problems with limited application availability – there's practically no area today that is not served reasonably well by free software – the remaining challenge is hardware support. That's obviously harder to resolve than the earlier software dearth, since it depends not on the willingness of coders to roll up their sleeves and write stuff, but on hardware manufacturers to release either open source drivers, or at least full specs for their kit. But even here, open source continues to demolish the barriers....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Publish and Be Damned?

If you were wondering why I have been rabbiting on about police raids on alleged leakers, here's the reason:

The new Counter Terrorism Bill, currently in The Lords, contains an amendment to Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This amendment will make it an offence, punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, to publish or elicit information about any police constable "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

Furthermore, Schedule 7 of the Bill applies this amendment to internet service providers and web hosting services. This means they will have a legal duty to remove all sites perceived to fall under this offence, and has provisions for use at home and abroad.

It is unclear what information will be classed as “useful” to terrorists, but due to this ambiguous wording, the Bill has implications for bloggers, journalists, photographers, activists and anyone who values freedom of speech.

It is hard to see what exactly this Bill is trying to do that isn't already coverd by the reams of similar legislation that has been passed recently. What kind of information about the police is so sacred? Why not pass a law about firemen, doctors or sewage workers - all people working on critical parts of society's infrastructure? Actually, I'm sure that's the next stage in this creeping lockdown of democracy.

This is yet another case of bad law predicated on a bad premise: that you can "fight" terrorism by passing increasingly Draconian measures. In fact, this is actually counterproductive: it takes away the liberties of people without giving them any security. It simply does the terrorists' work for them.

Moreover, the scope for abuse is huge: what exactly does "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" mean? Presumably, it would be useful for a "terrorist" to have pictures of police officers, so presumably *any* photography will be illegal. Which means - conveniently - that it will be impossible to photograph officers abusing their power.

Indeed, it could be argued - and probably will - that publishing any information desdribing police bullying or general stupidity is "useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" in some vague, general sense, because it is bound to give away some details of police activities, which are therefore potentially useful.

Clearly, this law will have a chilling effect not just on people wanting to leak information that is embarrassing to the government - since it becomes even harder to resist exaggerated responses of the kind we have seen recently - but on any kind of journalism or blogging about civil liberties. The sickening slide towards the police state continues apace.

01 December 2008

Is this OpenOffice.org's Firegull Moment?

One of the pivotal moments in the recent history of free software is when a small group of coders got fed up with the slow, buggy mess that was Mozilla, cut down and rewrote the code and created what eventually became Firefox....

On Open Enterprise blog.

Latin America Girds its (Free) Loins

More hopeful signs of increasing activity around free software from Latin America. This time, it's the International Congress of Free Software and Democratization of Knowledge, held in Ecuador:

Del 21 al 24 de noviembre del 2008 se realizó en Quito Ecuador y fue organizado por la Universidad Politécnica Salesiana.


El evento estuvo expectacular con representantes de gobiernos como Ecuador, Venezuela, Brasil y Extremadura. Miembros de las comunidades de Educalibre, Gleducar, Slec, Somos Libre, entre otros.

[Via Google Translate: From 21 to November 24, 2008 took place in Quito and Ecuador was organized by the Salesian Polytechnic University.


The event was expectacular with representatives of governments like Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Extremadura. Members of the communities of Educalibre, Gleducar, SLEC, We Are Free, among others.]

More details about the individual days from page linked to above.

Saving the Intellectual Commons with Open Source

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of the term “intellectual property”, and that I prefer the more technically correct term “intellectual monopolies”. Despite that, I strongly recommend a new book from someone who not only approves of the term “intellectual property”, but of its fundamental ideas. I do so, however, because this avowed fan also has serious reservations....

On Open Enterprise blog.

29 November 2008

The Rise of the Database State

Deep, if dark, essay on the deep malaise at the heart of British politics, and the rise of the database state:

A threefold process unfolded under New Labour whose dimensions and trajectories are only now becoming clear.

* First, an irreversible dismantling of the historic “sovereignty of Parliament” and its empire state through: a cultural destruction of the old “Establishment” clubland regime; a territorial break of its unitary form with devolution (to try and secure Labour’s hold on Wales and Scotland); a legal modernisation with the Human Rights Act. These were all far-reaching commitments inherited from the battle against Thatcher’s authoritarianism.

* Second, New Labour exploited the vacuum this created. Instead of replacing the old constitution it cultivated an even more centralised system of executive-sovereignty that treated the House of Commons with unparalleled contempt. Although progressive policies might be drawn up and implemented by able advisors, the core of this reformed state machine was dedicated to the construction of a corporate populist regime under prime ministerial fiat expanding surveillance and state controls to pioneer a new type of “database state”.

* Third, unable to appeal to the loyalty of traditional institutions such as Parliament and monarchy yet longing for unchecked executive power and dismissive of democracy, New Labour embraced market populism selling itself as the purveyor of choice, freedom and bust-free economic growth while dressing old socialist talk of inevitability and internationalism in the fresh language of “globalisation”. In effect it drew the old state through the eye of the City to create a regime that became a servant to the world financial markets.