27 December 2010

Putin Orders Russian Move to GNU/Linux

This looks huge:

Глава правительства Владимир Путин подписал план перехода властных структур и федеральных бюджетников на свободное ПО. Согласно документу, внедрение Linux во власти должно начаться во II квартале 2012 г.

Сегодня стало известно, что премьер-министр Владимир Путин подписал документ, в котором описан график перехода властных структур на свободное ПО (СПО).

Документ называется «План перехода федеральных органов власти и федеральных бюджетных учреждений на использование свободного программного обеспечения» и освещает период с 2011 до 2015 г.

[Via Google Translate: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a plan for transition of power structures and the federal budget [to] free software. According to the document, the introduction of Linux in government should begin in II quarter 2012.

Today it became known that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a document which describes the timetable for the transition of power structures on free software (OSS).

The document is called a "transition plan of the federal authorities and federal budgetary institutions on the use of free software, and covers the period from 2011 to 2015.]

The key document with that timetable (in Russian) is here; Google's translation of the salient part:

1. Approve the attached plan for the transition of federal executive bodies and agencies of the federal budget for the use of free software for 2011 - 2015 years.

2.Federal executive agencies to implement activities in accordance with the plan approved by this Order, within the established government of the Russian Federation, limiting the size of their staff and budget allocations provided to them in the federal budget execution authority to the specified area of activity.

Prime Minister

The Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

The fact that Putin has signed the order for this project could be critical: there have been several previous plans for moving parts of the Russian government to using free software, notably in the educational sector, but in practice they have mostly failed to materialise because there has been insufficient political weight behind them. But if Putin says: "make it so", I suspect that a lot of people will jump pretty fast to make sure that it *is* so. And once that happens, other plans to roll out free software might well suddenly look rather more attractive.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

24 December 2010

A World-Beating Report on Global Open Source

Something entitled “Report on the International Status of Open Source Software 2010” sounds pretty dry, as does its summary:

The objective of this report is to understand the role played by open source software in the Information and Communications Technologies sector around the world, and to highlight its economic and social impact, on both advanced economies and emerging countries, by analysing the ecosystems that foster the development of open source software: the Public sector, the Private sector, Universities and Communities of Developers.

On Open Enterprise blog.

23 December 2010

The Final Acts of ACTA

Although the current excitement over the gradual release of the Wikileaks documents is justified in that it concerns what is undoubtedly an important development for the future of the Internet, it has rather overshadowed another area where crucial decisions are being made: the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). In fact, ACTA finally seems to be nearing the end of its slow and painful crawl through the secret negotiation process that only recently we have been allowed glimpses of. And the more we learn, the more troublesome it is.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Open Invention Network in the Spotlight

Back in September, Mozilla made an announcement:

This week Mozilla joined Open Invention Network as a licensee. OIN is an organization which helps protect the Linux ecosystem by building a variety of defenses against patent attacks. These defenses include both traditional mechanisms, like defensive patent pools, and more innovative approaches, like the Linux Defenders project, which uses a variety of methods to proactively prevent the publication of particularly egregious patents. As a licensee, we’ll have access to OIN resources in case we’re threatened by operating entities with patents, and over time we’ll likely become more involved in providing our own ideas and resources to OIN projects.

On Open Enterprise blog.

22 December 2010

Jaron Lanier's Virtual Reality

There is now a well-established class of writers about the digital world whom I fondly dub the Old Curmudgeons. Basically, they agree, things there are getting worse all the time; this modern online nonsense is bad for us, and will give us all fallen arches or something. Leading exponents of this view include Nicholas Carr, Andrew Keen and Jaron Lanier.

I think Mr Lanier is the most interesting of these, because he has a solid technical background and has been creative in the digital sphere a long time. That makes his Savonarola-like denunciations of the same particularly striking.

Against that background, it was perhaps inevitable that he would weigh in on the Wikileaks business – and equally inevitable what his line would be, as his title makes clear: “The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy: The Case of WikiLeaks”.

If I had several hours to spare, I might try to go through it addressing his various arguments, many of which amount to unsubtantiated assertions about “The ideology that drives a lot of the online world”; ad-hominem sniping (for example, “we didn't necessarily get to know where Mr. Assange was at a given moment” - maybe because he is doing things a lot of governments and organisations don't like, and so discretion is the better part of valour); outright misapprehension (“Wikileaks isn't really a "wiki," but it is designed to look and feel like the Wikipedia” - er, well, no actually, it doesn't look like it in the slightest); and various straw men: “What if we come to be able to read each other's thoughts? Then there would be no thoughts. Your head has to be different from mine if you are to be a person with something to say to me” - as far as I am aware, nobody is calling for mandatory telepathy.

But I'd rather examine Lanier's peroration, because I think it exposes the fundamental flaw in his indubitably entertaining essay:

Anarchy and dictatorship are entwined in eternal resonance. One never exists for long without turning to the other, and then back again. The only way out is structure, also known as democracy.

We sanction secretive spheres in order to have our civilian sphere. We furthermore structure democracy so that the secretive spheres are contained and accountable to the civilian sphere, though that's not easy.

There is certainly an ever-present danger of betrayal. Too much power can accrue to those we have sanctioned to hold confidences, and thus we find that keeping a democracy alive is hard, imperfect, and infuriating work.

The flip side of responsibly held secrets, however, is trust. A perfectly open world, without secrets, would be a world without the need for trust, and therefore a world without trust. What a sad sterile place that would be:A perfect world for machines.

What the Wikileaks cables show is precisely that those sanctioned “secretive spheres” are not currently accountable to the civilian sphere. They show all the shady deals made in backrooms, the outright lies told to the public to keep us quiet, the connivance with big business to ensure that profit comes before ethics.

Lanier's logic seems to be that everything's fine and the revelations of Wikileaks will only mess things up. And until Wikileaks' revelations, people might have gone along with that analysis, since that was the story that governments were feeding us. But in the wake of Wikileaks, that is simply not a tenable position: as the words of diplomats delineate time and again, everything is not fine, and the social pact of accepting those “secretive spheres” in return for a responsible use of the advantage they bring has been broken.

I would love it to be the case that Lanier's analysis were true, and in some scaled-up, digitised version of Athenian democracy we could have a responsible wielding of state powers, with secrecy applied wisely and justly. But Wikileaks has confirmed what many have suspected, but hitherto been unable to prove: that politicians use secrecy to hide their continual and continuing breaches of the trust we placed in them.

Until they change in the light of what Wikileaks is showing, we cannot trust them as we did before. And the more they – and their defenders, however well intentioned – deny the situation revealed by their own words through Wikileaks, and try to stop us seeing it, by hook or by crook, the longer that is likely to take, and the messier it will be.

And given that proven record of abuse, when they do finally change we will need more transparency about what they are doing – but not *total* transparency, which is neither feasible nor necessary – to make sure that they are not falling back into their bad old ways under the convenient, comforting cover of secrecy.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

21 December 2010

Lessons from WikiLeaks: Decentralise, Decentralise, Decentralise

Whether or not Wikileaks turns out to be a watershed in politics, there's another question of more immediate interest to the open source world: can the latter learn a key lesson from the measures taken against the Wikileaks operation?

These have included booting it off Amazon's servers and stopping donations through MasterCard, Visa or PayPal. That this happened without warning serves as a timely reminder that such centralized services have absolute and largely arbitrary power over their users.

On The H Open.

20 December 2010

Why Governments Should Use Open Source Licensing

Here's a wonderful cautionary tale:

Systran created a specially adapted version of its Systran-Unix machine translation software for the [European] Commission, calling it EC-Systran Unix between 1997 and 2002.

On Open Enterprise blog.

17 December 2010

European Interoperability Framework v2 - the Great Defeat

Long-suffering readers of this blog will know that the European Interoperability Framework has occupied me for some time - I wrote about the first version back in 2008, and have been following the twists and turns of the revision process since.

These included the infamous leaked version that redefined “closed” as “nearly open”. Now we finally have the final version of EIF v2 - and it's not a pretty sight.

On Open Enterprise blog.

16 December 2010

Microsoft: Hoist by its Own Petard

I always look forward to reading Microsoft-funded research, because over the years it's evolved into a kind of game. The results - of course - are always amazingly good for Microsoft, but hidden away in there, like a secret at the heart of a complex puzzle, there's something that we're not supposed to notice that undermines the final result.

On Open Enterprise blog.

15 December 2010

Can Open Source Be Trusted?

Theo de Raadt is one of the key hackers outside the mainstream GNU/Linux world. Here's his self-penned bio:

I am the founder of OpenBSD -- a freely redistributable 4.4BSD-based operating system with an emphasis on security. Donations allow me to put my efforts into OpenBSD and related projects. In 1999, I created OpenSSH with other members of OpenBSD. It is now incorporated into all Unix systems plus hundreds of other network enabled products. It is now the most "vendor re-used" piece of open source software, with more than 90% of the SSH market.

On Open Enterprise blog.

14 December 2010

Linux Embeds Itself Yet Further

One of the many confusingly-similar groups in the open source space is Linaro:

a Not For Profit (NFP) organization that aims to make embedded open source development easier and faster. Linaro will create a common software foundation for software stacks and distributions to land on and provide the best open source tools for developers to develop on. The focus is on low level software around the Linux kernel that touches the silicon, key pieces of middleware that enable new markets and tools that help the developer write and debug code. Linaro aims to maximize the potential of the latest features of ARM-based processors, helping provide optimized performance in a lower power envelope.

On Open Enterprise blog.

13 December 2010

Big Tobacco: Saving Lives is "Expropriation"

Although I knew that there is yet another trade treaty being discussed between New Zealand, the US and others, I hadn't heard about this aspect before:

The Green Party is calling on the Government to reject attempts to introduce investor-state disputes mechanisms into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations in light of evidence that the Philip Morris tobacco company is planning to use the TPP to block anti-smoking laws.

The issue is this, apparently:

Philip Morris is currently taking action against Uruguay’s proposed anti-smoking laws under the investor-state disputes mechanism of the trade agreement between Uruguay and Switzerland. Uruguay is proposing to introduce new measures requiring 80 percent of cigarette packaging to carry graphic warnings against smoking. The company argues such measures effectively expropriate their investments. Under the investor-state disputes mechanism a World Bank panel will decide if Uruguay must pay Philip Morris for this ‘expropriation’.

So let me get this straight. Philip Morris - and all the other tobacco companies - make hefty profits by selling highly addictive substances to people that the company knows will probably give them cancer and/or a host of other life-threatening and painful diseases. Their deaths will cause huge losses not just personally, but economically - to their families, and to the state.

And yet, thanks to this wonderful "investor-state disputes mechanism", an unelected World Bank panel made up of people whose interests are probably aligned with big business rather than individuals in developing countries, "will decide if Uruguay must pay Philip Morris for this ‘expropriation’."

"Expropriation": that's what they want to rebrand the fight against these profits that result directly from the suffering of millions of people. Stopping these global, massively-powerful drug dealers is not common sense, or a wise health policy, but is now branded "expropriation". If you ever wanted a symbol of how sick and twisted capitalism and the structures that support it really are can be, you could do worse than choose this new "expropriation" of profits born of death.

Let's hope New Zealand tells the TPP negotiators pushing for this "investor-state disputes mechanism" that they can stick it in their carcinogenic pipes and smoke it. (Via @juhasaarinen.)

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

Netflix Opens up About Open Source

Even though it is generally accepted that open source is used widely throughout the business world, it doesn't hurt having a few high-profile examples to point at when people doubt its suitability for this role. Obvious ones like Google and Amazon have been joined more recently by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. And now here's another well-known name opening up, Netflix:

On Open Enterprise blog.

11 December 2010

Whatever Happened to the EU Interoperability Policy?

As readers of this blog will know, interoperability is a key issue in Europe at the moment. We are still waiting for the imminent version 2 of the European Interoperability Framework, where we will find out whether true restriction-free open standards will be recommended, on deeply-flawed ones based on FRAND licensing that for practical purposes exclude many free software projects.

On Open Enterprise blog.

09 December 2010

I, For One, Welcome Our New Patent Overlords

A significant event took place yesterday: potentially the biggest software patent troll of all has finally woken from its slumbers:

Today Intellectual Ventures (“IV”) enforced its rights and filed patent infringement complaints in the U.S. District Court of Delaware against companies in the software security; dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and Flash memory; and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) industries.

On Open Enterprise blog.

08 December 2010

Not All Chrome Glisters

The unveiling of Google's Chrome OS is rather extraordinary - not so much for what was announced, but how. After all, the first details of Chrome OS were revealed nearly 18 months ago:

On Open Enterprise blog.

06 December 2010

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold

One of the many fascinating aspects of the Wikileaks #cablegate saga is that, unusually, computer technology plays a central rather than peripheral role in all this. And not just any old computer technology, but specifically aspects that are key to the open source world.

On Open Enterprise blog.

02 December 2010

The Limits to Openness

Unless you live in certain countries or read certain newspapers, you will have been deluged over the last few days with “revelations” from those US diplomatic cables that have been released by Wikileaks (if you somehow missed all this fun, try this excellent “Wikileaks Cablegate Roundup”.)

On Open Enterprise blog.