30 April 2008

But They Can Spell "Intellectual Monopoly"...

British-based music industry umbrella the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry is now rapidly acquiring the reputation the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has in the US for heavy-handed but thinly-veiled anti-piracy measures. It’s produced a booklet it’s distributing through schools and colleges, libraries, record stores, teaching portals and websites in 21 countries that “aims to help young people use the Internet and mobile phones safely and legally to download music”.

Thank goodness British yoof don't read books nor booklets no more.

Is The Lack of Open Source Drivers Driving You Mad?

On Open Enterprise blog.

What's in a Name? Strong and Weak Open Access

A few months ago, I had the temerity to suggest the following:

Definitions matter. If you want to see why, compare the worlds of open source and open access. The very specific definition of what is open source - having an OSI-approved licence - means that it is relatively easy to police. Open access, by contrast, does not have anything like a tight, "official" definition, with the result that less scrupulous publishers try to pass off their wares as open access if it's vaguely open or vaguely accessible.

This brought down upon me the wrath of Mr Open Access himself, as the comments to the above post bear witness. Happily, I survived the thunderbolts, and therefore lived to see the following declaration from the same presiding OA oracle:

The term "open access" is now widely used in at least two senses. For some, "OA" literature is digital, online, and free of charge. It removes price barriers but not permission barriers. For others, "OA" literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary copyright and licensing restrictions. It removes both price barriers and permission barriers. It allows reuse rights which exceed fair use.

There are two good reasons why our central term became ambiguous. Most of our success stories deliver OA in the first sense, while the major public statements from Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin (together, the BBB definition of OA) describe OA in the second sense.

As you know, Stevan Harnad and I have differed about which sense of the term to prefer --he favoring the first and I the second. What you may not know is that he and I agree on nearly all questions of substance and strategy, and that these differences were mostly about the label. While it may seem that we were at an impasse about the label, we have in fact agreed on a solution which may please everyone. At least it pleases us.

We have agreed to use the term "weak OA" for the removal of price barriers alone and "strong OA" for the removal of both price and permission barriers. To me, the new terms are a distinct improvement upon the previous state of ambiguity because they label one of those species weak and the other strong. To Stevan, the new terms are an improvement because they make clear that weak OA is still a kind of OA.

On this new terminology, the BBB definition describes one kind of strong OA. A typical funder or university mandate provides weak OA. Many OA journals provide strong OA, but many others provide weak OA.

This was partly what I was trying to get across, in my own, 'umble and clearly not very successful way: the fact that "open access" was being used for quite different things - now named "strong" and "weak" open access - which confused matters no end, not least for people who were coming to the concept for the first time.

As a result of this new nomenclature, we now have precisely the "tight" definitions I was looking for:
"Weak OA" literature is digital, online, and free of charge. It removes price barriers but not permission barriers. "Strong OA" literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary copyright and licensing restrictions. It removes both price barriers and permission barriers. It allows reuse rights which exceed fair use.

There, that wasn't too hard, was it?

Has the BBC Duped Us over iPlayer?

You may remember that a little while back there was a bit of a kerfuffle about the BBC's decision to go with a Microsoft-based DRM solution for its download service. Initially we were told that only six people and a couple of mangy dogs ever accessed BBC sites with GNU/Linux, and therefore it wasn't worth supporting, but the BBC later admitted that what they really meant was that the audience ran to six *figures*. The story then was: trust us, we'll get round to GNU/Linux support as soon as we can. And you know what? Silly old me believed them.

So what do we have here?

Today was a big day for BBC iPlayer: it's the day that it first became available on a portable device. BBCiPlayer is now available on iPhone and iPod touch.

Really groovy. Er, now could we have GNU/Linux, please?

Then this:

If you have a Nintendo Wii, it's already connected to your TV, and now you can play iPlayer programmes directly on your Wii.

Amazing. But what about the GNU/Linux you promised?

And now we have this:

Today is another significant day for BBC iPlayer as it launches on its first TV platform: Virgin Media.


I wonder how that complaint about the BBC providing state aid to Microsoft is coming along....

The Free Web: 15 Years Old Today

It was exactly 15 years ago that the Web was made free:

Heute vor 15 Jahren erhielten Tim Berners-Lee und Robert Cailliau vom Genfer Kernforschungszentrum CERN die offizielle Erlaubnis, den Code der ersten Web-API und Webservers libwww als freie Software zu vertreiben.

[It was 15 years ago today that Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau received official permission from the Geneva research centre CERN to distributed the first Web-API and libwww web server as free software.]

I somehow doubt whether things would have come so far, so fast if Sir Tim or CERN had tried to make money from this whizzo Web idea.

29 April 2008

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Good, Vista Bad

Oh look, yet another reason *not* to upgrade to Vista:

The third service pack for XP gives you all the Windows XP performance updates, security updates and hotfixes that have been released since Service Pack 2 came out way back in August 2004. While Service Pack 3 may not be as big of a change as Service Pack 2 was, there are some noteworthy features from Vista that have been included in this release. Namely, NAP, a policy enforcement platform for limiting network access to secure machines, “Black Hole” Router Detection, a cryptographic module for the kernel and a new Product Activation module allows you to install XP without a product key.

Microsoft: The Police State's Best Friend

You can't make this stuff up:

Microsoft has developed a small plug-in device that investigators can use to quickly extract forensic data from computers that may have been used in crimes.

The COFEE, which stands for Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor, is a USB "thumb drive" that was quietly distributed to a handful of law-enforcement agencies last June. Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith described its use to the 350 law-enforcement experts attending a company conference Monday.

The device contains 150 commands that can dramatically cut the time it takes to gather digital evidence, which is becoming more important in real-world crime, as well as cybercrime. It can decrypt passwords and analyze a computer's Internet activity, as well as data stored in the computer.

Now, tell me again why you want to run Windows instead of GNU/Linux?

Hello Hayeren OS

One part of the world that has always fascianted me is Armenia. It's an ancient civilisation, but one that today finds itself in a pretty parlous state, not least economically. This makes open source a perfect resource, so it's good to see an all-Armenian distro appearing:

The author of the Hrat GNU/Linux project is Vardan Gevorgyan, who manages a small group of volunteers. The project is open, interested may join. More, we think that the success of the project and the power of considered system mostly relays on the compatriot's support.

And if you want to see what the Armenian page for it looks like, here it is.

27 April 2008

John Wilbanks on the Knowledge Web

Here's a nice meditation from Science Commons' John Wilbanks on openness, access and innovation, which includes the following thoughts on the "knowledge web":

Just to be clear, here’s what I mean by a knowledge web: it’s when today’s web has enough power to work as well for science as it currently works for culture. That means databases are integrated as easily as web documents, and it means that powerful search engines let scientists ask complex research questions and have some comfort that they’re seeing all the relevant public information in the answers. A knowledge web is when journal articles have hyperlinks inside them, not just citations, letting systems like Google do their job properly.

A knowledge web is predicated on access, and not control, of knowledge. There will never be a competition to provide the best single-point query to the full-text of journals without access- unless the journals all merge down into one company. That’s the only way a controlled system covers the whole world, through monopoly. There will never be a knowledge web where the entire backfile is hyperlinked to databases for relevance based indexing without access. Scientists won’t get to use the newest and best technologies until those companies that control knowledge decide to adopt those technologies. Control is the enemy of testing the newest technologies, of building one’s own system to suit one’s own needs. We have to have access to build a knowledge web, at least if we hope to replicate the success of the regular Web and the Internet.

GPM on LWN.net

In the spirit of passing on vaguely useful information, I notice that LWN.net has put together a handy master index of external contributors, including yours truly.

SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access

This is something that I've thought a good idea for a while; now, it seems to be taking shape:

SPARC Europe (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a leading organization of European research libraries, and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Lund University Libraries today announced the launch of the SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access journals. Growing numbers of peer-reviewed research journals are opening-up their content online, removing access barriers and allowing all interested readers the opportunity of reading the papers online, with over 3300 such journals listed in the DOAJ, hosted by Lund University Libraries in Sweden.

However, the maximum benefit from this wonderful resource is not being realised as confusion surrounds the use and reuse of material published in such journals. Increasingly, researchers wish to mine large segments of the literature to discover new, unimagined connections and relationships. Librarians wish to host material locally for preservation purposes. Greater clarity will bring benefits to authors, users, and journals.

In order for open access journals to be even more useful and thus receive more exposure and provide more value to the research community it is very important that open access journals offer standardized, easily retrievable information about what kinds of reuse are allowed. Therefore, we are advising that all journals provide clear and unambiguous statements regarding the copyright statement of the papers they publish. To qualify for the SPARC Europe Seal a journal must use the Creative Commons By (CC-BY) license which is the most user-friendly license and corresponds to the ethos of the Budapest Open Access Initiative.

The second strand of the Seal is that journals should provide metadata for all their articles to the DOAJ, who will then make the metadata OAI-compliant. This will increase the visibility of the papers and allow OAI-harvesters to include details of the journal articles in their services.

One of the greatest dangers is that the term "open access" be diluted by unscrupulous misappropriation. With luck, the new seal will help to provide an official definition of what is and isn't open access. My only concern is with the name: the "Europe" bit makes it sound like it doesn't apply elsewhere....

Patron Saint of Computing on Free Software

During the writing of Rebel Code I had the privilege of talking to nearly all of the world's top hackers. Among those, Donald Knuth is pretty much at the apex, certainly in the world of computer science.

His interviews are all-too rare these days, not least because he is racing against time to write as much of his magnum opus, The Art of Computer Programming, as he can. So I was pleased to come across this one, in which St Donald has these wise words to say on the subject of free software:

The success of open source code is perhaps the only thing in the computer field that hasn’t surprised me during the past several decades. But it still hasn’t reached its full potential; I believe that open-source programs will begin to be completely dominant as the economy moves more and more from products towards services, and as more and more volunteers arise to improve the code.

For example, open-source code can produce thousands of binaries, tuned perfectly to the configurations of individual users, whereas commercial software usually will exist in only a few versions. A generic binary executable file must include things like inefficient "sync" instructions that are totally inappropriate for many installations; such wastage goes away when the source code is highly configurable. This should be a huge win for open source.

(Via tuxmachines.org.)

25 April 2008

The Hidden Success of Linux

Embedded systems are something of an iceberg: most of the activity is happening invisibly, so it's easy to overlook how far Linux has come in this sector:

Laut einer Studie des amerikanischen Marktforschungsunternehmens VDC ist Linux das meistgenutzte Embedded-Betriebssystem in der Industrie. 18 Prozent aller Ingenieure aus dem Embedded-Umfeld, die an der Studie teilnahmen, verwenden eine Linux-Firmware für ihre Geräte. Weitere fünf Prozent bedienen sich bei anderen freien Embedded-Systemen wie dem Real-Time-Projekt FreeRTOS, TinyOS oder eCOS.

Gründe für den Einsatz von Linux im Embedded-Bereich sind, dass es viele Entwicklungs-Tools kostenlos gibt und für die Linux-Firmware auch keine Lizenzkosten (Royalties) pro produziertem Gerät anfallen. Als weitere wichtige Vorteile nannten die Ingenieure die große Flexibilität von Linux durch die offenen Quellen, die jederzeit beliebig angepasst werden könnten, sowie eine gewisse Vertrautheit mit Linux allgemein.

[According to a study from the American market research company VDC, Linux is the most-used embedded operating system. 18 per cent of all engineers in the embedded world who took part in the survey use Linux for their devices. Another five per cent use other free embedded systems such as the real-time project FreeRTOS, TinyOS or eCOS.

Among the reasons for adopting Linux are the many development tools that are freely available and that no royalties need to be paid per device. Engineers cited Linux's great flexibility as a result of its open source nature, allowing it to be modified in any way, as well as a certain familiaty with Linux in general as further advantages.]

The Ultimate Ultraportable List

Lost in the deluge of GNU/Linux ultraportable announcements? Me too. Here's a consolidate list that might help.

Poor Little Rich Intellectual Monopolies

Here's a droll piece about poor, little unloved intellectual monopolies:

At the highest level, there are those who no longer believe that all property is theft but appear to make an exception for IP. Since every newly created work builds upon the words, the thoughts, the ideas, and the knowledge created by countless others in their furtherance of humanity, any attempt to ring-fence an item of IP, and exclude others from it is an attempt to misappropriate part of the common intellectual heritage of mankind. Since knowledge and information can be shared with others without depriving oneself of them, there is no loss to oneself if such an act of sharing takes place.

At a lower level, there are those who accept the existence of IP rights, but reserve their criticisms and their hostility for specific manifestations of it: the enforcement of copyright against large-scale private copyists, the use of trade mark rights to carve up markets so that genuine goods cannot be imported from a country where they are sold cheaply for resale in another country where they fetch a better price; the theft of traditional knowledge and culture which is then repackaged as copyright- or patent-protected property; the patrolling of industry by unproductive patent trolls, intent upon securing a rent where they create no value; death by patent monopoly for millions in the developing world who, in the unlikely event that they can even access vital medicines, cannot afford them.

Sounds like a fair summary. It concludes:

attitudes toward IP rights focus principally upon their negative qualities and do not connect them with that which is positive. Thus, new medicines save lives, while patents kill; music is cool, while copyright is a clamp; brands are brilliant, while trade marks are tools of trade manipulation. It is too much to hope that the public at large will wake up one morning, enlightened at the beneficial, positive, and above all necessary role played by IP rights, but we can at least aspire to teach that, between that which they praise and that which they condemn, there is a powerful causative connection.

To which I would reply: Why bother? Given the problems with intellectual monopolies nicely summarised above, isn't it time to admit that in fact there are no benefits, that it is all a hideous con, a house of cards that needs to blown down once and for ever? (Via IPKat.)

Microsoft on the Rocks?

Hardly, with a quarterly profit of $4.39 billion, but this is interesting:

Sales in the division selling Office and other business applications fell, hit by lower demand.

As was this:

One factor denting profits was a $1.42bn fine imposed by the European Commission for breaching competition rules.

Put like that, the fine was a significant chunk of Microsoft's profits. Maybe it actually felt it this time.

Lost in the Clouds

Here's a piece about cloud computing that ask a pertinent question:

Why isn't the world's biggest and most powerful software company taking the initiative here? For all of Microsoft's chest beating about internet delivery as the next phase of its development, we've seen precious little in the way of action.

There are so many reasons that it's hard to pin down. Perhaps it's with Ray Ozzie, the successor to Bill Gates, who is still settling into his job. Or perhaps it's just the stifling bureaucracy of a corporation that stretches as far as the eye can see.

But there's also something missing from this analysis of cloud computing. Nowhere is it mentioned that an essential prerequisite for creating huge server farms to keep the clouds afloat is free software: if Google or Amazon had to use proprietary software, paying for each instance clouds would never, er, get off the ground.

Just as the open source LAMP stack created the current wave of Web 2.0 companies, so free software will run the magic machinery keeping clouds aloft.

24 April 2008

Radical Openness

It's the new buzzword:

Yahoo Inc. is swinging the doors of its Web platforms wide open to let outside developers create applications across its network of sites and is radically stitching together its online services under the social profile concept.

The idea is to let the hundreds of millions of people who use its Web mail, instant messaging, calendar, photo management and other online services replicate the social experience that social networks like MySpace and Facebook have made so popular.

O(SS) Canada! Our Home and Native Land!

Some impressive official stats about open source use in Canada:

"Open source" software is rising in popularity, according to survey data. Open source software is software for which the underlying source code is readily available for modification by any interested person or firm.

In 2007, an estimated 17% of private sector firms reported using open source software, up from about 10% just two years earlier, when this practice was first measured.

As in previous years, about one-half of organizations in the public sector reported using open source software in 2007.

An advantage of open source software is flexibility, allowing users to customize or modify the software to their specific needs. In 2007, 3% of private firms and 13% of public organizations reported customizing open source software.

That's damn good growth: 10% to 17% in just two years.... (Via Michael Geist.)

52 Million Brazilian Mini-Penguinistas

That's what will soon be reality, according to this:

until the end of this year there will be already 29,000 labs deployed, serving approximately 36 million students. This number grows to more than 53,000 by the end of 2009, and at that time 52 million students will have access to them. You can also see in the slide a solution that is being developed for classrooms: a single hardware unit with integrated projector, cpu, bundled content and DVD player. With it, digital content will no longer be restricted to the info lab, and will be usable by teachers in the traditional classrooms as well.

Each info lab contains a server and 7 CPUs, providing 15 access points via a multiterminal hardware and software solution

There is also a different lab configuration for schools in rural areas. These schools usually have only one or two rooms, and very weak infrastructure. So a solution that minimizes power consumption was devised, and it allows 5 seats using a single CPU, with no server required

What's the betting that Brazil soon becomes a hotbed of open source hackers? (Via tuxmachines.org.)

Is Cheating in Microsoft's DNA?

Seems so:

I was looking to see what search sites might have a particular bug that I (ahem) came across and was trying the search for the number 0 in various places. There is a pretty good Wikipedia page about zero. Zero has a rich and interesting history and there are many other potentially reasonable results.

But I was surprised to see MSN search had demoted their good results below some crappy ones from MSDN

All's Well That Googles Well

I was worrying that Google's Summer of Code might be fizzling out. Happily, it seems that things are fine:

Google Summer of Code 2008 is on! Over the past three years, the program has brought together over 1500 students and 2000 mentors from 90 countries worldwide, all for the love of code. This year, we're welcoming 1125 student contributors and 175 Free and Open Source projects into the program.

Sounds pretty healthy.

Russkies Under the Radar

Russia is one of the countries I try to follow as closely as I can in terms of free software because it is both (a) potentially a huge market and (b) rather overlooked. Here's an excellent summary of an important official government document that looks at open source and the issues it raises in Russia:

Russian Ministry on Information Technology and Communications published recently a document entitled Concept of development and usage of Free Software in the Russian Federation (Russian). It is a 29-page text, which is by far the most detailed roadmap of government involvement in Free Software. The legal status of this document is not very strong: in the recent Russian governmental tradition a ‘concept’ is a kind of a detailed policy declaration, which may not be fully observed or may even be rejected or forgotten after a short period of time. However, it may serve as groundwork for future projects and more specific policy measures. Thus, even though a concept document does not create anything by itself, its availability is necessary for creation of good things.

Open Enterprise Interviews

On my other gig, at Computerworld UK, there's now a handy page bringing together the growing collection of interviews with open source luminaries. Here's the list so far:

Denis Lussier: Postgres

Rich Guth: Actuate

Jeff Haynie: Appcelerator

Ismael Ghalimi: Intalio

Mary Lou Jepsen: One Laptop Per Child founding CTO

Howard Chu: OpenLDAP chief architect

Ivo Jansch: PHP

Stefane Fermigier: Nuxeo

Javier Soltero: CEO Hyperic

Jono Bacon: Canonical's Ubuntu Community Manager

Fabrizio Capobianco: Funambol founder

Tristan Nitot: President Mozilla Europe

Dominic Sartorio: President Open Solutions Alliance

Mark Taylor: President Open Source Consortium

Lots more in the pipeline.

23 April 2008

Humour of the Week

"There's free software and then there’s open source," he suggested, noting that Microsoft gives away its software in developing countries. With open source software, on the other hand, "there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with."

Open source, he said, creates a license "so that nobody can ever improve the software," he claimed, bemoaning the squandered opportunity for jobs and business.

Spotted by the eagle-eyed Mike Masnick, who, for the sake of younger viewers, explains the obvious.

Well, Well, WALS

Now that's what I call open content:

WALS is a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials (such as reference grammars) by a team of more than 40 authors (many of them the leading authorities on the subject).

WALS consists of 141 maps with accompanying texts on diverse features (such as vowel inventory size, noun-genitive order, passive constructions, and "hand"/"arm" polysemy), each of which is the responsibility of a single author (or team of authors). Each map shows between 120 and 1110 languages, each language being represented by a symbol, and different symbols showing different values of the feature. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 datapoints give information on features in particular languages.

WALS thus makes information on the structural diversity of the world's languages available to a large audience, including interested nonlinguists as well as linguists who would not normally read grammars of exotic languages or specialized works by comparative linguists. Although endangered languages are not particularly emphasized, they are automatically foregrounded because of the large sample of languages represented on each map, where each language (independently of its number of speakers) is shown by a single symbol.

(Via Languagehat.)

OLPC is Dead...

...and Matthew Aslett is dead-on:

“One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist,” Negroponte told the AP, while lamenting that the focus on open source software had caused technical problems, such as limiting support for Flash. “Negroponte said he was mainly concerned with putting as many laptops as possible in children’s hands,” added the AP.

The focus on laptop sales is laudable, but it is debatable whether it justifies abandoning open source software. This is a matter not of fundamentalism, but of principles.

Sad, but the prospect of Sugar running on other low-cost GNU/Linux laptops almost makes up for it.

Update: Even more on Negroponte's insane embrace of Windows XP, and his apparent lack of understanding as far as open source is concerned, here.

Why Dear Trees Really Are Dear

A year ago, I wrote about the plight of urban trees. At the time, I never imagined we'd have a solution as far-sighted as this:

A plane tree in central London has been valued at £750,000 under a new system that puts a "price" on trees. How?

A six-foot-wide plane in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, is thought to be the UK's most valuable tree.

Large, mature, city trees like this one are being blamed - sometimes wrongly and often fatally - for damage to neighbouring properties.

But it is hoped a new valuation system will make it harder for "expensive" trees to be felled due to doubtful suspicions they are to blame for subsidence.


Putting a price on a tree changes people's attitudes and if developers think in financial terms, then a community asset must be valued in the same currency, he says.

So if a developer is in court for illegally destroying a tree, then the fine could be a reflection of the tree's value, says Mr Stokes. Or if a new development replaces a stock of trees then the builder could contribute to the community a sum equal to the value of that lost stock.

Brilliant. Now, if we could only apply that to all the rest - air, water, animals, plants....

Closing MySQL: Marten Mickos Responds

On Open Enterprise blog.

DRM: The Gift that Keeps on Taking

Now, people, aren't you really glad you bought DRM'd music:

Customers who have purchased music from Microsoft's now-defunct MSN Music store are now facing a decision they never anticipated making: commit to which computers (and OS) they want to authorize forever, or give up access to the music they paid for. Why? Because Microsoft has decided that it's done supporting the service and will be turning off the MSN Music license servers by the end of this summer.


This doesn't just apply to the five different computers that PlaysForSure allows users to authorize, it also applies to operating systems on the same machine (users need to reauthorize a machine after they upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista, for example). Once September rolls around, users are committed to whatever five machines they may have authorized—along with whatever OS they are running.

Good job nobody's upgrading to Vista, anyway.

How Will Microsoft Cope with Clouds?

One of the central questions for future computing is: How will Microsoft cope with clouds? In other words, when the PC platform becomes almost an adjunct, how will the company maintain its vice-like grip on the market? A typically thorough post here from Mary Jo Foley about Microsoft's Live Mesh provides some important clues. Here's one part that I found particularly interesting:

Even though the Live Mesh team went out of its way to emphasize that Microsoft sees Live Mesh as an open platform, and not just one designed to appeal to the Windows/.Net choir, both Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (Silverlight) are key elements of the Live Mesh developer stack (a diagram of which — here on the left — can be enlarged to full size by clicking on it). Support for Flash, Cocoa, JavaScript and other non-Microsoft-centric technologies is there, too. But given Live Mesh is from Microsoft, I’d wager Silverlight applications and services will look and work better as Live Mesh endpoints than apps/services built on and for Mac OSX/Safari, Linux and Mozilla ones.

This is standard lock-in: provide a nominally "open" platform, but make sure it works better with Microsoft products - a variant on the old "DOS ain't done 'til Lotus won't run." Some things never change....

22 April 2008

Open Enterprise Interview: Denis Lussier

On Open Enterprise blog.

May You Live in Interesting Times

And this is certainly interesting:

Last night [Editor's note: Sunday, Apr 20] around 7pm my [American] friend was attacked by a mob of about 150 people outside the Carrefour in Zhuzhou, Hunan (near his placement site). When leaving Carrefour some of the crowd started shouting at him and he tried to say he didn't have anything to do with the Olympics, but 3 men started to push him and then he was hit in the back of the head at least 3 times. He started to run, and the mob chased him. He jumped into a cab, but the mob surrounded the car and started shaking and rocking it. The cab driver was shouting at him to get out. Then they started hitting the car. The crowd was shouting "kill him! kill the Frenchman." He called the Field Director while in the back of the car. The cab driver abandon the car when he saw police coming. Two police made there way though the mob and managed to drive the cab away. The Field Director alerted the Director Shu of the Hunan Department of Education. The police got him another cab and he took it from Zhuzhou to the field director's home in Changsha. He spending the night here in Changsha and is likely leaving China as soon as possible.

Glad I'm not going to the Olympics this year....

Update: Sigh, looks like some over-hasty reporting here.... Why can't people check this stuff out *before* posting?

Includipedia - Count Us In

As I've written elsewhere, I am a big fan of inclusionism when it comes to Wikipedia - the idea that there is no good reason why it shouldn't include entries on anything. After all, nobody forces you to read the stuff, and it's not as if it's sitting on your bookshelves. Includipedia feels the same:

The main difference between Includipedia and Wikipedia is that Includipedia will have an Inclusionst policy.

When people's work is trashed by deletionists, they become discouraged from contributing to Wikipedia. If many good Wikipedia editors get disgruntled with Wikipedia's deletionists, the important work of creating a repository of all information is harmed.

Why shouldn't every film, every TV programme episode, every small-circulation magazine, every pokemon character, etc have an article about it, if people want to write those articles? People who aren't interested in these subjects won't read them, and people who are interested will find them useful.

Also worth noting is Encoresoup, an partial, inclusionist version of Wikipedia all about free software:

The goal of Encoresoup is to provide a comprehensive reference guide to virtually all Free Software and Open Source projects and the FOSS ecosystem.

The core and inspiration for Encoresoup is the set of Wikipedia's FOSS articles managed by the Free Software WikiProject. Encoresoup seeks to build on and enhance this content in the following ways :

* Include many more articles. Practically any Free/Open Source Software project can be documented here (but see our inclusion policy) and we hope one day to host articles covering the vast majority of projects.

Eee - That's What I Call Speed

Another reason GNU/Linux will do well in the ultraportable sector: Windows XP is much slower than GNU/Linux on the Asus Eee PC.

I timed each part (starting up, launching Firefox, and shutting down) to see what the time difference really was. Here is what I found:

Linux: 30 seconds - Windows: 54 seconds
Launching Firefox
Linux: 4 seconds - Windows: 16 seconds
Linux: 6 seconds - Windows: 68 seconds

21 April 2008

Ubuntu Rising

Amazing: as I write, the third most-read story on the high-traffic BBC News site is one about Ubuntu.

We're getting there, people....

Opendotdotdot Comments: An Apology

As several dozen of you will have noticed, I haven't been posting comments to some stories. The reason is simple: I never saw them. Gmail's spam filter decided that most of the comments sent to me for moderation should be summarily eaten.

It is only now, having gone through a few thousands spam messages, that I've found most of them (I hope) and posted them. Apologies for the delay. If I've missed any, please feel free to send them through again, and I'll try to save them from Gmail's anti-spam maw.

What's particularly worrying is that Google is rejecting messages from blogspot.com - it's own domain. Worse, I've found many Google alerts, from the google.com domain, also classed as spam. If Gmail can't even tell whether messages from Google are not spam, there's clearly something seriously wrong with Google's filters.

Anyone else having the same problems?

Has MySQL Forgotten All It Learnt?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Why Ubuntu on ARM Could be a Rich Seam

You may have heard of the ARM architecture, but you may not know just how widespread it is:

ARM today announced that the total number of processors shipped by its Partners has exceeded ten billion. The company developed its first embeddable RISC core, the ARM6 processor, in 1991, and its semiconductor Partners currently ship almost three billion ARM Powered processors each year.

So news that Ubuntu is being ported to the architecture is pretty cool:

A Nokia-sponsored project is porting Ubuntu Linux to the ARM architecture. The "Handheld Mojo" team has completed ARM builds of Feisty Fawn (dubbed "Frisky Firedrake") and Gutsy Gibbon ("Grumpy Griffin"), with Hardy Heron compilation starting soon.

Is This the Season of Porcine Aerobatics?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Why You Should Boycott the UK Biobank

I first came across proposals for the the UK Biobank when I was writing Digital Code of Life in 2004. It's an exciting idea:

UK Biobank aims to study how the health of 500,000 people, currently aged 40-69, from all around the UK is affected by their lifestyle, environment and genes. The purpose of this major project is to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of illnesses (such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and joint problems) and to promote health throughout society.

By analysing answers, measurements and samples collected from participants, researchers may be able to work out why some people develop particular diseases while others do not. This should help us to find new ways to prevent early death and disability from many different diseases.

It's all about scaling: when you have vast amounts of information about populations, you can find out all kinds of correlations that would otherwise be obscured.

But as I noted in my book:

Meanwhile, the rise of biobanks - massive collections of DNA that may, like those in Iceland and Estonia, encompass an entire nation - will create tempting targets for data thieves.

This was well before the UK government started losing data like a leaky tap. Naturally, the UK Biobank has something to say on this issue:

Access is kept to a minimum. Very few staff have access to the key code. The computers which hold your information are protected by industry strength firewalls and are tested, so they are safe from hackers.

Sigh. Let's hope they know more about medical research than they do computer security.

But such security intrusions are not my main concern here. Again, as I wrote four years ago:

Governments do not even need to resort to underhand methods: they can simply arrogate to themselves the right to access such confidential information wherever it is stored. One of the questions addressed by the FAQ of a biobank involving half a million people, currently under construction in the United Kingdom, is: "Will the police have access to the information?" The answer - "only under court order" - does not inspire confidence.

I gathered from this blog post that invites are now going out, so I was interested to see what the UK Biobank has to say on the subject now that it has had time to reflect on matters:

Will the police have access to the information?

We will not grant access to the police, the security services or to lawyers unless forced to do so by the courts (and, in some circumstances, we would oppose such access vigorously).

"In some circumstances" - well, thanks a bunch. Clearly, nothing has changed here. The UK government will be able to waltz in anytime it wants and add those temping half a million DNA profiles to the four million it already has. After all, if you have nothing to hide, you can't possibly object.

Given the UK government's obsession with DNA profiles, and its contempt for any idea of privacy, you would be mad to sign up for the UK Biobank at present. Once your DNA is there (in the form of a blood sample), the only thing keeping it out of the government's hands is a quick vote in a supine Parliament.

Much as I'd like to support this idea, I won't have anything to do with it until our glorious leaders purge the current DNA database of the millions of innocent people - and *children* - whose DNA it holds, and shows itself even vaguely trustworthy with something as precious and quintessential as our genomes. And if the UK Biobank wants any credibility with the people whose help it needs, it would be saying the same thing.

20 April 2008

Oyster Is...Toast

As Ben Laurie so eloquently puts it:

The MiFare stream cipher, as used in Oyster cards, has been comprehensively cracked. The researchers claim they can recover the key in well under 5 minutes after observing a single transaction.

19 April 2008

Cold Facts About the Norwegian OOXML Scandal

The meeting was a farce and the result was a scandal. But it’s not over yet, and one thing is clear: the “little one” is unfit to represent the interests of Norwegian users. It’s time he was told, “Roll over, roll over…”

Shine the light, shine the light, people...

18 April 2008


No, really:

Salad makes a perfect open source project. While most people think it's a drag to produce a whole salad, it's not so hard to get them to cough up one or two ingredients. The ingredients people contribute automagically turn out to be complimentary, most of the time. And, as more people contribute ingredients, the salad gets better and better.

When Will They Ever Learn?

On Open Enterprise blog.

Social Networks Save P2P

Amazing how things you put on your social networks can come back to bite you:

Police officer Jim Keyzer, the leader and key witness in the Pirate Bay investigation was recently employed by Warner Bros, one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing case against the Pirate Bay four. Undoubtedly, this will seriously hurt the credibility of the ongoing court case.

tpbKopit.se found out yesterday -through the police officer’s facebook profile- that Keyzer was recently employed by Warner Bros, one of the plaintiffs in the prosecution against The Pirate Bay. Keyzer has deleted his facebook profile, but confirmed that he indeed works for the company now.

OpenOffice.org Storms Away – on the Continent

On Open Enterprise blog.

Standard Deviation

Another corker here from Rob Weir on ISO's rather pathetic OOXML FAQ:

To put it in more approachable terms, observe that Ecma-376, OOXML, at 6,045 pages in length, was 58 standard deviations above the mean for Ecma Fast Tracks. Consider also that the average adult American male is 5' 9" (175 cm) tall, with a standard deviation of 3" (8 cm). For a man to be as tall, relative to the average height, as OOXML is to the average Fast Track, he would need to be 20' 3" (6.2 m) tall !

For ISO, in a public relations pitch, to blithely suggest that several thousand page Fast Tracks are "not unusual" shows an audacious disregard for the truth and a lack of respect for a public that is looking for ISO to correct its errors, not blow smoke at them in a revisionist attempt to portray the DIS 29500 approval process as normal, acceptable or even legitimate. We should expect better from ISO and we should express disappointed in them when they let us down in our reasonable expectations of honesty. We don't expect this from Ecma. We don't expect this from Microsoft. But we should expect this from ISO.

17 April 2008

Ozzie on OSS

Interesting comments here from Ray Ozzie - "chief software architect" number 2 (after Bill) - on open source and Microsoft's relationship to it:

My position toward open source generally is that it's a part of the environment. It's very useful for developers to be able to get the source code to certain things, to modify them. Microsoft fundamentally, as a whole, has changed dramatically as a result of open-source as people have been using it more and more. The nature of interoperability between our systems and other systems has increased. I can tell you from an inside perspective ... when you build a new product, immediately you start thinking, how shall this product expose its APIs. ...

Open source is a reality. We have a software business that is based on proprietary software. We tactically or strategically, depending on how you look at it, will take certain aspects of what we do and we will open-source them where we believe there is a real benefit to the community and to the nature of the growth of that technology in open-sourcing it. ... The bottom line is we believe very much in the quality of Microsoft products and we are an (intellectual-property) based business. But we live in a world together with open-source, and we have to make it possible for you to build solutions, or customers to build solutions, that incorporate aspects of that.

The Evolution of Knowledge

This is moving in the right direction - towards *all* knowledge, freely online for *everyone* to use in *any* way - rather like free software:

Darwin's private papers online - the largest publication of Darwin's papers in history. Read about it here. Browse the papers here.

This site contains Darwin's complete publications, thousands of handwritten manuscripts and the largest Darwin bibliography and manuscript catalogue ever published; [Click to enlarge] also hundreds of supplementary works: biographies, obituaries, reviews, reference works and more.

Almost all is online only here: such as 1st editions of Voyage of the Beagle, Zoology, Descent of Man, all editions of Origin of Species (1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th & 6th); important manuscripts: Beagle Diary & field notebooks, Journal, transmutation notebooks and Autobiography.

Forthcoming: more editions, translations, introductions & manuscripts.


These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes and distribution to students; republication in any form requires written permission.

Why? Isn't knowledge for sharing?

Ah well, it's a good start.

Open Textbooks - An Idea Whose Time has Come?

Well, there's this call for affordable textbooks, including open textbooks:

One thousand professors from over 300 colleges in all 50 states released a statement today declaring their preference for high-quality, affordable textbooks, including open textbooks, over expensive commercial textbooks.

Open textbooks are complete, reviewed textbooks written by academics that can be used online at no cost and printed for a small cost. What sets them apart from conventional textbooks is their open license, which allows instructors and students flexibility to use, customize and print the textbook. Open textbooks are already used at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions - including Harvard, Caltech and Yale - and the nation’s largest institutions - including the California community colleges and the Arizona State University system.

And then, as if on cue, we have a company, Flat World Knowledge, offering open textbooks:

Our books might feel like your current book – for a minute. They are written by leading experts, and are peer- reviewed, edited, and highly developed. They are supported by test banks, .ppt notes, instructor manuals, print desk copies, and knowledgeable service representatives. There the similarity ends.

Instead of $100 plus, our books are FREE online. We don't even require registration! Students just enter the URL they're given by their instructor and start reading. It's that easy. No tricks. No popup ads. No "a premium subscription is needed for that". In fact, our free books go beyond what standard print editions provide with integrated audio, video, and interactive features, powerful search capabilities, and more.

What's particularly interesting for me is the business model behind the open textbooks:

Our business model eliminates the catch. We're giving away great textbooks and making them open because it solves real problems for students and instructors. In so doing, we are creating a large market for our product. We then turn around and sell things of value to that large market – more convenient ways to consume our free book (print, audio, PDF) and efficient ways to study (study aids). Sure, we’ll make less money per student than the big guys. But that’s okay. We’ll be selling to a lot more of them, and we’ll be doing it for a lot less money (thanks to technology like web-hosted services, XML, print-on-demand, and more).

Which is, of course, the "classic" approach - well, at least around here - for free content: making money *around* the free stuff. Let's hope it works - we could all do with more quality open textbooks.

Tricky Things, Ecosystems

A decade ago, I and others started wittering on about the Microsoft monoculture - the fact that practically everyone was using the same OS, the same browser, the same office suite. This made crafting attacks much easier, because certain assumptions about what was on a given machine were almost certainly true.

Nowadays, with the rise of Firefox and, to a lesser extent, OpenOffice.org, you might think we've moved on. Apparently not:

We have different versions of the OS, and we have Mac users. But we’ve only got one Flash vendor, and everyone has Flash installed. Why do you care about Flash exploits? Because in the field, any one of them wins a commanding majority of browser installs for an attacker.


Although this document deals specifically with the Win32/intel platform, similar attacks can most likely be carried out on the many other platforms flash is available for. In particular, some of the methodology discussed might be useful for constructing a robust exploit on Unix platforms as well as several embedded platforms.

In other words, ecosystems need to be heterogeneous everywhere: as soon as you have a monoculture in some area, that becomes a weakness for the entire system to be attacked.

16 April 2008

Not Economically Viable

Speaking as a mathematician, I have never understood why economics ignores its environmental effects, since this fundamental error in the model almost guarantees things like climate change, deforestation, overfishing and the rest. It seems I'm not the only one:

the mathematical theories used by mainstream economists are predicated on the following unscientific assumptions:

* The market system is a closed circular flow between production and consumption, with no inlets or outlets.
* Natural resources exist in a domain that is separate and distinct from a closed market system, and the economic value of these resources can be determined only by the dynamics that operate within this system.
* The costs of damage to the external natural environment by economic activities must be treated as costs that lie outside the closed market system or as costs that cannot be included in the pricing mechanisms that operate within the system.
* The external resources of nature are largely inexhaustible, and those that are not can be replaced by other resources or by technologies that minimize the use of the exhaustible resources or that rely on other resources.
* There are no biophysical limits to the growth of market systems.

If the environmental crisis did not exist, the fact that neoclassical economic theory provides a coherent basis for managing economic activities in market systems could be viewed as sufficient justification for its widespread applications. But because the crisis does exist, this theory can no longer be regarded as useful even in pragmatic or utilitarian terms because it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a fundamental requirement of any economic theory—the extent to which this theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally responsible ways on a worldwide scale. Because neoclassical economics does not even acknowledge the costs of environmental problems and the limits to economic growth, it constitutes one of the greatest barriers to combating climate change and other threats to the planet. It is imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the realities of our global system into account.

Amen to that.

Oh, Tell Me the Truth About...Tibet

Amidst the sound and fury of the current standoff between China and the West over Tibet, this National Geographic Magazine feature - presumably written before current events - is about the most balanced that I've read anywhere. Here's a sample:

Tibetans I met acknowledged that along with oppression China has brought a standard of living far higher than that of their parents under the Dalai Lama's rule. The Chinese have built hundreds of schools, where until the 1950s there had been just a handful of nonreligious schools. They've built hospitals. Everywhere I traveled, they'd halted deforestation and are replanting trees, having learned through bitter experience in the summer of 1998 that the denuding of Tibet caused the Yangtze to flood, drowning 4,000 people. They've built airports and are beginning the first Tibetan railroad. They've also installed a telecommunications network, one that enabled me to dial directly to the U.S. Despite having a phone line to India, the best the Dalai Lama could do to send word across Lhasa from the dim recesses of the Potala Palace was to dispatch a runner.

Yet Tibetans almost invariably also said that China was implementing development solely to help exploit Tibet's natural resources. "Their goal is to extract all our treasures—timber, wildlife, gold, uranium—"and to make China rich and powerful," said a man in his late 20s in Chamdo, a town on the banks of the Mekong River.

How Microsoft Will Play the ISO Card

On Open Enterprise blog.

Where Would We Be Without Patry?

William Patry, incidentally Google's copyright man, and, more pertinently, pretty much the world's leading expert on anglo-american copyright, has the shameless demand of the Music Business Group (MBG), a coalition of UK music publishers, record labels, and licensing organisations, for a second licensing fee for personal format shifting nicely skewered in this great post:

What this means to me is not that consumers have captured value that belongs to the industry, but rather that consumers have long been deprived of the value of their money, and are finally beginning to get something close to the true value of the product being sold. It is that market reality that scares the you-know-what out of the MBG, and that forced it to turn to a consultant to come up with a theory to sell to government policy makers as an example of the sky is falling from yet another effort to blame consumers for the industry’s own shortcomings. The proposed solution by MBG is an attempt to obtain a government-mandated subsidy by consumers of an industry that is finally being forced to give consumers what they want. There is no value for policy makers in mandating such an undeserved subsidy. And, as a policy matter, the theory on which it is based, namely that every unauthorized use by consumers is the misappropriation of value properly owned by copyright owners, has no limit; it applies to book reviews, news stories, quotations, parodies, the first sale doctrine, and a limitless term of protection (note the connection between the value theory and the concurrent effort at term extension for sound recordings in the UK and Europe). Even Blackstone’s view of property as the sole, despotic dominion of the owner never reached this far.

Hopefully the UKIPO will reject the proposed levy and the theory out of hand. Rejection would be a valuable lesson.

Venezuela Gets It on Eye-Pea

Who doesn't want intellectual prosperity?

The term “intellectual property” is a new-speak propaganda word. First, the topic it covers varies from copyright, patents, trade secrets and trademarks to a variety of other things, all of which are very different and unrelated. Second, it is based on the premise that you can give someone something intangible and yet control it as if it or they were your physical property, even the ideas they may have in their mind.

The consequences of treating ideas as if they are tangible property are the very destruction of science and education, and the elimination of individual rights and freedoms.

The consequences of treating ideas as if they are tangible property are the very destruction of science and education, and the elimination of individual rights and freedoms. Science is in part built upon the idea that new knowledge is created by incrementally improving ideas.

Education is based on the idea that one can learn from existing things and then use that knowledge to create new works. The idea behind “intellectual property” is barbarism, and could well lead to a new dark ages, where only a privileged few are allowed to learn, under the exclusive control of greedy intellectual monopolies.

SAPI, the Independent Service ministry of Propiedad Intellectual, was the ministry that used to define Venezuela’s so called “Intellectual Property” laws. The current Director General of SAPI has very different ideas for the purpose of SAPI. Rather than creating new intellectual restrictions, the Director General proposes that the mission of SAPI should instead become that of promoting “intellectual prosperity” by creating laws and services that promote the ability to share knowledge as the common heritage of all mankind, rather than hoard it to make a few people wealthier.

The Coming Shift: China Starts Outsourcing

Here's another straw in the wind:

MOBILE PHONE builder China Techfaith said Wednesday that it has signed up Egyptian firm Quicktel to develop and assemble low cost handsets there.

Once therer are cheaper places to build stuff than China, the latter's role as the workshop of the world will diminish, and with it the economic and ecological imbalances that has led to.

Of course, the West - and China - will need another cheap workshop to keep their unsustainable lifestyles going, and to soak up all the outsourced pollution. My money's on Africa, and it looks like Egypt is leading the way....

15 April 2008

Talking of Ultraportables...

Try running Windows on this. (Via Linux and Open Source blog.)

ISO Ill at Ease Over OOXML

On Open Enterprise blog.

Life in Cloud Cuckoo Land

On Open Enterprise blog.

When in Rome

Even if we don't necessarily want to copy everything the Italians do (the approach to rubbish disposal in Naples, for example), this is certainly something we can learn from:

100 Italian candidates signed Assoli’s letter engaging themselves to promote the use of free software.

I wonder what would happen here in the UK if we tried something similar? At least John Pugh would sign it....

Has Asus Lost the Plot on Ultraportables?

Like many, I have been waxing lyrical about the possibilities of the new ultraportable market pretty much created by the Asus Eee PC. One of the key drivers of this sector is cost, so anything that reduces it is likely to be important. Against this background it's hard to understand the following:

Asus Eee PC 4G (white, Windows XP)

Product Summary

The good: Small, light weight, and inexpensive; Windows XP for the same price as the Linux version.

The *same price*? Are they bonkers?

Fortunately, Asus is not the only player in this sector - there's probably around a dozen now. So if Asus won't do the decent/sensible thing and pass on the savings arising from using free software, I'm sure someone else will.

Update: But here it says same price, but more memory for GNU/Linux....

Why We Must Keep Backing Dell

As I've written elsewhere, we need to keep the momentum behind Dell's high-profile GNU/Linux experiment. Here's a reminder why:

Dell has continued to sell enterprise servers with Linux since that 1999 debut, he said. The recent Linux on Dell program for laptops and desktop machines, however, has been gaining momentum, he said. "If the program wasn't successful, we wouldn't be able to continue it," Domsch said.

14 April 2008

Make Your Words Count

Journalists live and die by the number of words they write (quantity, not quality). This makes a Firefox add-on like Word Count Plus a godsend.

Don't be Neutral about Net Neutrality

On Open Enterprise blog.

The £100 PC

I've written plenty about the exciting new class of ultraportables, most of which run GNU/Linux as their primary operating system, but that's maybe led me to overlook what's happening with the ordinary PC. Like this: a PC system box (no monitor) for just over £100. The spec? Low end, but eminently usable:

* Intel® Celeron 3.2GHz Processor
* 80GB – 7200RPM Hard Disk Drive
* DVD Rom drive
* VIA PM 800 Pro Motherboard
* Integrated shared 64MB Graphics
* 5.1 channel AC’97 Sound
* 6 x USB 2.0 Ports
* Integrated Ethernet 10/100 Mbps
* 1 x AGP 8x , 3 x PCI
* Enhance 250W PSU
* Multimedia Keyboard
* Optical Scroll Mouse
* Ubuntu Linux

At this kind of price, put together with a spare monitor or LCD, the barrier to giving Ubuntu or similar a go just got much lower. (Via LXer.)

I, For One, Welcome Our New Blogject Overlords

Now objects are on-line too - blogjects , blogging objects. Once “things” are connected to the Internet, they immediately become part of the relational system, thus improving and boosting the connections in the social network, and they finally define a new relationship between presence and mobility in the physical world. With a pervading Internet network objects are now “citizens” of our space, with the possibility to communicate and interact with them.

Uh-huh. (Via Collaborative Thinking.)

12 April 2008

Ecuador Goes Free

It's easy to focus on the dramatic bad news - like the OOXML shenanigans - and overlook the quiet success stories. Like the announcement that the Presidente of Ecuador, Rafael Correa Delgado, has just signed a decree making the use of open source the default policy for government:

El Presidente de la República, Rafael Correa, mediante decreto No. 1014 de 10 de abril del 2008, establece como política pública para las entidades de la administración pública central la utilización de Software Libre en sus sistemas y equipamientos informáticos.

[Via Google Translate:

The President of the Republic, Rafael Correa, by decree no. 1014 of April 10, 2008, establishes as public policy for institutions of the central administration, the use of free software in their computer systems and equipment.]

There are just three situations in which it is permissible to use proprietary software:

Además el decreto faculta la utilización de software propietario (no Libre), únicamente cuando no exista una solución de Software Libre que supla las necesidades requeridas, o cuando esté en riesgo la seguridad nacional, o cuando el proyecto informático se encuentre en un punto de no retorno.

[In addition, the decree authorizes the use of proprietary software (Free), only when there is no solution to free software to fill the needs required, or when national security at risk, or when the computer project is at a point of no return.]

It's not every day you see Stallman's "Four Freedoms" included in a presidential decree:

Se conoce como Software Libre a los programas de computación que se pueden utilizar y distribuir sin restricción alguna y que permiten su acceso a los códigos y fuentes y que sus aplicaciones pueden ser mejoradas.

Los programas de computación incluyen las siguientes libertades; utilización del programa con cualquier propósito de uso común; distribución de copias sin restricción alguna; estudio y modificación del programa (requisito: código fuente disponible); y publicación del programa mejorado (requisito; código fuente disponible).

[It is known as Free Software to software that can be used and distributed without any restrictions and allowing her access to the codes and sources and their applications can be improved.

The software includes the following freedoms; use the software for any purpose in common use; distributing copies without restriction; study and modification of the program (requirement: source available), and publication of the enhanced programme (requirement; source available ).]
(Via Esteban Mendieta Jara.)

11 April 2008

Compiz is Cool – and Why That Matters

On Open Enterprise blog.

A Tale of Two Graphs

This is restating a point I've made elsewhere: that the graph of hardware requirements for Windows keeps on rising, while that for GNU/Linux is practically flat:

What all this means is that Windows is becoming more and more resource reliant while Linux essentially maintains its requirements. Microsoft is already seeing the effects of their sloppiness in bad reviews of Vista and having to extend XP’s life, but unless they change soon, they will see it even more, and pay for it too.

In the future, it seems likely that a computer with Windows will cost far more than a computer with Linux, not because of the price of the operating system (since hardware manufacturers are constantly pretending Windows is free, when in reality it is not) but because the hardware required to run Windows is so much more expensive than the hardware required to run Linux.

It's why I think the ultaportable sector is so important: it exposes this trend most brutally.

10 April 2008

Chinese Whispers

One of my hobbies is to try to spot the emergence of unintended consequences of major events. The classic, perhaps, is the fall of the Communism, and the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which was supposed to be a victory that showed the West's strength, but turned out instead to make our lives hugely less safe. Here's another - and a profound one at that:

Just as damaging for China in the long run, however, may be the effect on ordinary citizens. One place the Tibetan flag no longer flies is in the window of a bed shop in the English city of Sheffield. Its owner is a Tibetan sympathiser, who displayed the flag last month. Two young Chinese, apparently students, visited and made threats. That night his windows were smashed. A celebration supposed to mark China's emergence as a friendly global power has made some people think for the first time that its rise is something to fear.

Only a whisper at the moment, but I predict it will become a fearsome - and fearful - roar before long.

OOXML: Poland Refuses to Roll Over

More fat ladies who haven't sung:

Tomasz Bednarski (Mandriva Poland) wrote a letter to PKN president, Tomasz Schweitzer, in which he expressed his concerns about the Polish OOXML ratification process which Bednarski took part of, as a member of the technical committee 182.


So, it seems that the OOXML saga in Poland is far from over and there will be more proceedings in the nearest future, which we will pass to you as soon as we hear about them.

Ubuntu = Eubeunteu?

Well, maybe one day:

The European Parliament's IT department is testing the use of GNU/Linux distribution Ubuntu, OpenOffice, Firefox and other Open Source applications, the British MEP James Nicholson explained last week in a letter to Italian MEP Marco Cappato.

According to Nicholson the tests show this Open Source configuration meets the Parliament's office requirements. It does not mean that Ubuntu will immediate replace the currently used system, he added. "This depends on long-term developments and needs and functional requirements of the Parliament. The stability of our IT systems is crucial."

Nicholson writes the IT department is considering a change in approach of the IT services. The move to a so-called service-oriented architecture could provide an opportunity to move to Open Source.

Open Enterprise Interview: Rich Guth

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Tentacles Spread Further in Russia

And I'm not talking about the mafia here:

Соглашение, подписанное губернатором Ленинградской области Валерием Сердюковым и генеральным директором «Майкрософт Рус» Биргером Стеном, определяет основные направления взаимодействия сторон по внедрению ИТ-решений в исполнительных органах государственной власти Ленинградской области, а также в сфере образования, системе здравоохранения и социального развития региона.


Среди основных задач данной программы прописано создание «электронного правительства» Ленинградской области как комплекса государственных и муниципальных информационных систем, функционирующих на основе общей информационно-телекоммуникационной инфраструктуры региона. «Подписанное соглашение с компанией „Майкрософт Рус“ должно стать дополнительным ресурсом для успешного выполнения программы по информатизации», — выражают надежду в администрации области.

[Via Google Translate:

The Government of the Leningrad region and the company Microsoft signed an agreement of intent "in the application of information technology". Thus, the region confirmed their ambition to establish a system of "e-government" following the St. Petersburg, where a similar project Corporation Bill Gates has helped develop more than six months.


Among the main objectives of this program passed creating "electronic government" Leningrad region as a set of state and municipal information systems that operate on the basis of a common information and telecommunications infrastructure in the region. "The agreement with Microsoft Rus' to be an additional resource for the successful implementation of the programme of information" - hope in the administration area.]

And you can bet that "common information and telecommunications infrastructure" does *not* mean open standards....

Is Microsoft Now Banned from EU Contracts?

On Open Enterprise blog.

09 April 2008


UKUUG, the UK's Unix & Open Systems User Group, is not happy with the BSI's decision to approve OOXML:

the UKUUG is seeking legal advice on how best to proceed in order to convince BSI to reconsider its decision and instead raise an objection to the fast tracking of the standard within the 2 month window allowed by the ISO.

Alain Williams, Chairman of UKUUG, said:

"We are very disappointed that BSI has chosen to take this decision against the advice of its technical committee. The format used for storage of documents will affect our lives for decades to come, and it is imperative that standards such as OOXML are given a rigorous review rather than being rubber-stamped by BSI. Where would we be if the original Magna Carta was unreadable?"

Hell hath no fury like a Unix geek scorned....

The Fat Norwegian Lady Sings

Geir goes for it:

We were robbed of victory in ISO by a mere 3 votes.

Without the irregularities in Norway, that would have been just 2 votes. Reports are coming in of similar irregularities in other countries, including France and Denmark. Let's get those non-representative votes changed. Let's throw OOXML out of ISO.

Microsoft thinks it has won this battle, but I say it's not over yet.

It’s never over until the fat lady sings, and this fat lady only just got started.

Pix here. (Via tuxmachines.org.)

Could Microsoft Buy Red Hat?

An interesting question from Marc Fleury.

The answer: *of course* it could.

Just don't expect many of the top open source hackers working there - and there are many - to stick around long if it did.

Security? - Don't Bank on It

A useful article here dissecting what's wrong with the latest version of the UK Banking code, "the voluntary consumer-protection standard for UK banks", which was released last week:

Until the banks are made liable for fraud, they have no incentive to make a proper assessment as to the effectiveness of these protection measures. The new banking code allows the banks to further dump the cost of their omission onto customers.

When the person responsible for securing a system is not liable for breaches, the system is likely to fail. This situation of misaligned incentives is common, and here we see a further example. There might be a short-term benefit to banks of shifting liability, as they can resist introducing further security mechanisms for a while. However, in the longer term, it could be that moves like this will degrade trust in the banking system, causing everyone to suffer.

The House of Lords Science and Technology committee recognized this problem of the banking industry and recommended a statutory change (8.17) whereby banks would be held liable for electronic fraud. The new Banking Code, by allowing banks to dump yet more costs on the customers, is a step in the wrong direction.

I also wonder what the banks' attitude to people using GNU/Linux systems might be, given the following requirement:

Online banking is safe and convenient as long as you take a number of simple precautions. Please make sure you follow the advice given below.

• Keep your PC secure. Use up-to-date anti-virus and spyware software and a personal firewall.

Since GNU/Linux users tend not to run anti-virus programs, and don't use traditional firewalls: does that mean they're always liable?

Second Life's Grand Opening

I wonder whether in retrospect Linden Lab's decision to open up the code of Second Life will turn out to be as momentous as when Netscape gave its Navigator code to the new Mozilla project? Interestingly, Linden Lab specifically invoked that precedent when it made the announcement:

In 1993, NCSA released their liberally licensed, but proprietary, Mosaic 2.0 browser with support for inline images arguably heralding the start of the web as we know it today. In an act of either acceptance of the inevitable or simple desperation, Netscape Communications released the bulk of the Netscape Communicator code base to form the foundation of projects as Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird.

We are not desperate, and we welcome the inevitable with open arms.

Stepping up the development of the Second Life Grid to everyone interested, I am proud to announce the availability of the Second Life client source code for you to download, inspect, compile, modify, and use within the guidelines of the GNU GPL version 2.

A year later, it's a good moment to review where we are, and here are two useful contributions, one from Wagner James Au, the other from LWN's Jonathan Corbet. Things seem to be moving on, and it will be interesting to watch how this area develops.

Collaboration of a Different Kidney

Collaborating for mutual benefit lies at the heart of open source, but not quite as profoundly as in this situation:

US doctors have carried out what is believed to be the world's first simultaneous six-way kidney transplant.

Six recipients received organs from six donors in operations at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland.

The procedure was made possible after an altruistic donor - neither a friend nor relative of any of the six patients - was found to match one of them.

Five patients had a willing donor whose kidney was incompatible with theirs, but it did match another in the group.

This meant that suddenly, there were six people who could receive an organ.

Riding the Dragon

If you want to understand the role of the Internet in the development of the current situation in China, this is the best article I've read on the subject:

In the weeks since the protests, riots, and government crackdown in Tibet hit the headlines, Chinese coverage of the events has gone through several incarnations. It began life as a terse state press-release, then refashioned itself into a front-page struggle between embattled civilians and scheming "splittists", before arriving at its current manifestation: the public shaming of the purportedly anti-Chinese western media.

On the face of it, these changes have been mandated from the top down. But behind the curtains of China's official media, networks of active internet users have played a key role in shaping the course of the reporting of Tibet.

It includes this fascinating nugget:

"In the beginning, the government had been hoping to keep things quiet", my friend Bei Feng, an editor of a major Chinese web portal whose blog was chosen in 2007 as one of China's ten most influential, told me. "But the actions of netizens forced them to widen their coverage." He himself was an example of this sort of net activism. When news of Tibet broke, he employed a strategy he says he commonly uses for sensitive issues, posting a story about it on his blog and then taking it off after only a few hours to avoid being shut down by censors. The window of time is narrow, but gives readers ample opportunity to copy and paste his story into chatrooms and bulletin-board systems.

And concludes with this interesting thought:

As he offers rice wine to those seated near him, Bei Feng pointed out a failing in the government's favoured method of co-opting anti-foreign sentiment. "What the authorities don't realise is that the people who are using these standards of objectivity to criticise CNN will eventually apply them to Xinhua and CCTV."

"Yes", a listener chimed in. "The common people are very smart. Sooner or later they'll expect more."

Update: Looks like it's started...

A Good Foundation to Build On

On Open Enterprise blog.

08 April 2008

Al Jazeera: Opening New Horizons


It has been maligned by the US administration because it has given a voice to its public enemy number one: Osama bin Laden, but Al Jazeera's motto of giving voice to all sides of a story is also reflected in its IT deployment. The news organisation is turning out to be a big fan open source software.

(Via Linux Today.)

OOXML a No-No for Some Countries, Anyway

Here's an intriguing hint of what may be to come, in Europe at least.

First, in Belgium and Holland:

Belgium and the Netherlands will not yet consider OOXML, Microsoft's format for electronic documents, it appears from comments by the Belgian Federal ICT advisory body Fedict and the Dutch ministry of Economic Affairs.

Asked to comment on last week's ISO approval for OOXML, Fedict's chief IT architect, Peter Strickx, said: "There will have to be multiple implementations, in order for us not to become dependent on a single vendor. It will also have to be compatible with open standards that we already use, in this case Open Document Format ODF."

Also in Germany:

The German Foreign Ministry will not be using OOXML, at least for now.

"We will not be in a position to process OOXML unless it is available independently of the platform", said Rolf Theodor Schuster, who heads the IT department of the German Foreign Ministry. "There must exist an Open Source implementation that can be used without any restrictions, regardless of the platform or Linux distribution."

He said the Foreign Ministry will not accept OOXML if only a single GNU/Linux distribution implements OOXML. "It is not good enough if only Novell will offer it on Suse Linux."

What's particularly interesting about both these is that they show how these people understand that a so-called standard with only minimal implementation is no standard at all. What is needed is multiple, major implementations and real competition.

Maybe one benefit of the extremely argumentative process of considering the approval of OOXML is that is has made people - well, technical people, at least - much more aware of the key issues involved. And we have Microsoft to thank for that.

Of Microsoft, GNU/Linux and Boiled Asses' Heads

On Linux Journal blog.

Should We Discriminate In Favour of Firefox?

An intriguing idea:

And if I ran your site, I'd treat Firefox visitors as a totally different group of people than everyone else. They're a self-selected group of clickers and sneezers and power users.

So, should we be hiving off visitors using Firefox to some enhanced, privileged version?

One (Chinese) Door Closes....

...and another (Turkish) door opens:

Just days before Commission President José Manuel Barroso's visit to Ankara, the Turkish government has introduced a bill to soften a controversial article in the country's penal code outlawing criticism of Turkish identity.


The main change to the so-called "Turkishness" article is that the permission of the President would be needed to approve prosecutions related to cases where Turkish identity or the country's institutions have been insulted, Turkish media reported yesterday (7 April).

The proposed amendment would also decrease the maximum punishment from three to two years and replace the wording "denigrating Turkish identity" with "denigrating the Turkish nation" in an effort to eliminate the law's vague notion of "Turkishness".

Hardly total Turkish delight, but it's a move in the right direction, and to be commended for that.

Is This the Start of Red Hat 2.0?

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Yakuts Have an Word for IT

Readers of this blog probably take for granted a crucial freedom that open source software makes possible: that of being able to use your own language for computing. If you think this isn't a problem with proprietary software, even for well-known nations, just ask the Icelanders:

When Microsoft refused to produce an Icelandic version of Windows '98, on the grounds that the market was too small, Iceland's Ministry of Education and Culture threatened legal action. Microsoft relented.

Unbelievably, that was just ten years ago, and although Microsoft has improved since then, it's done so largely because open source has forced it to by showing what can be done. And still free software reaches the (linguistic) parts other software cannot.

For example, it's probably not a good idea to hold your breath until Microsoft comes out with a version of its software that can accommodate the Yakut language, but free software is already on the case:

В ходе этих встреч было подписано соглашение между фирмой ALT Linux и ЦНИТ ЯГУ о научно-техническом сотрудничестве и на ЦНИТ ЯГУ была возложена функция представительства ALT Linux в области образования по республике Саха (Якутия). В то же время был обсужден вопрос о внедрении якутских шрифтов в операционную систему ALT Linux с целью продвижения и широкого использования продукции ALT Linux.

[Via Google Translate:

During these meetings, an agreement was signed between the company and ALT Linux TSNIT YAGU on scientific and technical cooperation and on the New YAGU was responsible representation ALT Linux in education in the republic of Sakha (Yakutia). At the same time, discussed the implementation of fonts in the Yakut ALT Linux operating system to promote the production and extensive use of ALT Linux.]

Update: More here.

Wrestling with Google's Python in the Cloud

Here's Google App Engine, part of its cloud offering:

Google App Engine lets you run your web applications on Google's infrastructure. App Engine applications are easy to build, easy to maintain, and easy to scale as your traffic and data storage needs grow. With App Engine, there are no servers to maintain: You just upload your application, and it's ready to serve your users.

You can serve your app using a free domain name on the appspot.com domain, or use Google Apps to serve it from your own domain. You can share your application with the world, or limit access to members of your organization.

App Engine costs nothing to get started. Sign up for a free account, and you can develop and publish your application for the world to see, at no charge and with no obligation. A free account can use up to 500MB of persistent storage and enough CPU and bandwidth for about 5 million page views a month.

During the preview release of Google App Engine, only free accounts are available. In the near future, you will be able to purchase additional computing resources.

Here's the fun bit:

Google App Engine applications are implemented using the Python programming language. The runtime environment includes the full Python language and most of the Python standard library.

Although Python is currently the only language supported by Google App Engine, we look forward to supporting more languages in the future.

A big boost for the open source Python, then - no surprise, given that its creator, Guido van Rossum, works for Google. But I wonder what languages it will support in the future?