Tag: free software

Stallman warns about Bitcoin peril

Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation warned that there needs to be a new form of electronic currency which is protected from NSA spy agency data mining.

According to RT Stallman told a London gathering of Bit coin fans that while Bitcoin has its benefits, it is not up to the standard of a safe digital currency that would shield a payer from being tracked by companies and, ultimately, by intelligence agencies.

He said that an anonymous payment system is also required for us to start “taking control of our digital lives”.

He said that Bitcoin’s problem is that it might get used for tax evasion. But he said that some of the biggest problems of tax dodging are legal and if governments want to put an end to tax dodging, tax laws need to be changed so that businesses can’t offshore their profits.

But he said that the biggest problem with Bitcoin is that it is not anonymous. People do not necessarily give their names when they do Bitcoin transactions, but the government can probably figure it out.

You can only get Bitcoins if you set up a Bitcoin money computer, which is how Bitcoins are made, you are going to get them by buying them from someone. If you are an ordinary person, the way you could do it is by paying with a credit card to a company that will exchange government currency for Bitcoins. The credit card identifies you, so when you get Bitcoins in return, the government can see who you are.

He said that there is only going to be real democracy when a government cannot see who is doing what. 

Free Software Foundation celebrates 30th birthday

Free software guru Richard Stallman has been looking into his navel as part of the Free Software Foundation’s 30th birthday.

Stallman is president of the Free Software Foundation and launched the development of the free software operating system GNU in 1984.

The GNU/Linux system is used on tens of millions of computers today. Stallman also founded the League for Programming Freedom, which campaigned against legal threats to programming.

Writing in Wired, Stallman said that it is now 30 years since he launched the campaign for freedom in computing. He said that since he started, the IT scene has changed a lot, with most people in advanced countries owning computers and phones which can be like computers.

It still worries him that non-free software makes users surrender control over their computing to someone else. In fact, the situation has become worse thanks to Service as a Software Substitute, or SaaSS, which means letting someone else’s server do your own computing activities.

This was all highlighted by the Snowden scandal which shows that non-free software and SaaSS can spy on the user, shackle the user, and even attack the user.

He said that malware was common in services and proprietary software products because the users don’t have control over them.

Meanwhile, free software is controlled by its users and freedom means having control over their own lives.

However, Service as a Software Substitute causes the same injustices as using a non-free program.

If a person uses a SaaSS translation service they send text to the server, and the server translates it and sends the translation back to the user.

This means that you are entrusting all the pertinent data to the server operator, which will be forced to show it to the state.

If the users don’t control the program, the program controls the users, he warned.

The other difficulty is that non-free software forces others to use it as well. If you use the non-free Skype client, another person has to use it and surrender their freedoms along with yours, Stallman said. 

Open source community wades into Ubuntu phone

While many open saucers are getting moist about the chances of a pure Linux phone running Canonical’s Ubuntu Phone, there are a few who are blowing trumpets of caution.

KDE’s Plasma Active team leader Aaron Seigo wrote on his blog that his eyebrows were raised when he saw Canonical’s press release and saw that the Ubuntu code will deliver a mobile, tablet, desktop or TV experiences depending on what device it is installed on, or where it is docked.

Seigo, having looked at the code behind Ubuntu’s Unity interface, thinks Canonical’s claim is hollow because the new phone will be based on QML, which Unity isn’t. 

He pointed out that there is a high level of fudge factor in the Ubuntu announcement and he thinks that Canonical is being “ethically weak”. In open source land that is fighting talk.  

Seigo said that the free software community was being told a fairy tale in hopes that it will swallow it and, as a result, support Canonical “under what amounts to false pretences”.

He added that if you are a free software developer, user, or supporter, and buy into these claims, “you’re being duped”.

Seigo thought the Ubuntu Phone is great, and the world needs more free software mobile efforts, particularly those using Qt/QML. But it was difficult “to sit on one’s hands and say nothing when such communication techniques that are not healthy for the free software movement are employed”.

Open source Pope Richard Stallman is not a big fan of Ubuntu which he has called spyware because the operating system sends data to Ubuntu maker Canonical when a user searches the desktop. Needless to say he is not impressed with the Linux phone either.

Microsoft blocks free software site

Software giant Microsoft appears to have gone on the offensive against the Free Software Federation.

The Volish “reputation” database apparently thinks that donate.fsf.org is a gambling site and if you give money to open saucers you are giving the cash for loose women, cards, and other things which are against the morals of a more puritan Redmond.

The Free Software Federation is an independently audited registered nonprofit public-interest charity founded almost 30 years ago. And the worst that its weirdie beardie members have ever done are ceremonially taking the Nintendo out of Microsoft at any opportunity.

Nevertheless it seems that Vole has blocked donate.fsf.org on its “network security” software and many people were unable to make donations.

According to the FSF site, the organisation has avoided attributing this error to malice just yet.

However a spokesman said that this reminded him of a several years ago, when BadVista campaign pages were conspicuously absent from Microsoft’s live.com search results.

After several complaints that Vole was censoring posts the pages began appearing as one would expect.

If it is malice, then it might be seen as an own goal by Microsoft as it proves the FSF’s point about the dangers of using proprietary “network security.”

After all, if the user is not fundamentally in control of the software, the user has no security,” the site points out.

“If Microsoft “reputation” database can’t tell the difference between a gambling site and an independently audited registered nonprofit public-interest charity founded almost 30 years ago, it is certainly doing you and your business more harm than good,” the FSF said. 

Despite anti-Oracle hysteria, firm is an Open Source powerhouse

By the time you read this, we´ll be in 2011, and 2010 will be remembered as the year where the IT press used Oracle as its favourite punching bag. This scribbler thinks that despite anti-Oracle hysteria, there´s reasons to think that the database giant has become an Open Source powerhouse, as most -if not all- of Sun´s open source projects are alive and kicking under Oracle´s handling.

Oracle saved the Sun
Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, one of the IT industry´s most hard-working firms in the fight for open standards and against the Redmond juggernaut, the Evil Empire of Redmondia. Sun was also one of the most unrecognised firms by FOSS pundits, despite its vast contributions to the open source movement, be it in the form of developers on Sun´s payroll collaborating with FOSS projects -from Gnome to MySQL to OpenOffice.org to you-name-it, and also when taking into account the hundreds of thousands of lines of proprietary code turned to open source.

Yet, the Slashdotter crowd always had a reason to pick on Sun Micro because – oh the horror – they also wanted to make a profit with Free Software and OSS, or just because they had a crown jewel, Solaris, that wasn´t released under the GPL as the FOSS mob wished. Many in that crowd also chastised AOL for years, despite that fact that the firm supported Netscape programmers working on Mozilla.org and open web standards.

Then, after years of financial struggle, losing Scott McNealy -one of its brightest minds with clear long-term goals and an understanding of who was its real enemy (Microsoft and its Windows monoculture first, all others later) – and after re-inventing itself several times, Oracle jumped in and decided to ends Sun´s ages-old haemorrhaging balance sheet. Weeks before that, it was rumoured that Big Blue was going to buy Sun, yet the deal fell through. Looking back, this scribbler thinks that things would be much worse now had IBM ended up engulfing and devouring Sun Microsystems.

Anti-Oracle hysteria
Dictionary.com defines hysteria as “an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterised by irrationality, laughter, weeping”. Yes that describes what hit the news wires after the Oracle acquisition was completed.

It didn´t take long for the mainstream IT press to begin what I´d describe as a FUD campaign against everything Sun Microsystems had in its open source catalogue. Soon one began seeing curious people joining mailing lists of products formerly owned by Sun and asking “what will happen to this product? will Oracle kill it? should we move to something else?”. There was no reason for that speculation, just Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

Then came the articles from somewhat well known IT news sites telling about potential killing of products, customers in panic, and the like. No, I have no proof that there was actually an astroturfing campaign against Oracle, but it would surprise me very much if the thought didn´t cross the mind of some of its competitors, given past experiences.

Guilty before proven innocent, of FOSS “crimes” yet to materialise
It seems that for some in the FOSS camp, Oracle is “guilty until proven innocent”, that the burden of proof has been reversed. To make a somewhat extreme and blunt comparison: they must prove they´re not child molesters, before any incident actually happens. “Prove me you´re not going to kill it!” claim some users  – or astroturfers – of every open source product from Sun. Insane.

The only thing I´m certain of, is that the bloodbath with regards to open source products would have been orders of magnitude higher had IBM purchased Sun -as was originally negotiated-. For instance, there was little incentive for IBM to keep the NetBeans IDE alive, as the firm always favoured another open source IDE: Eclipse. Yet, Oracle has continued supporting the NetBeans project, as it suits and complements its proprietary, freeware Java IDE, and both target different kind of developer communities, and in the case of NetBeans, more languages.

FUD, Lies, and Doomsday Predictions
Here are my favourite doomsday predictions thrown at Oracle during 2010:

First failed prediction, post-acquisition of Sun: “Oracle might kill OpenOffice”. Of course, it was said in subtler, more FUD-filled ways: “I have heard from so many readers that they fear what will happen to both OpenOffice and MySQL”. Yeah, right

Result: Killing of OpenOffice never happened, Oracle sponsored the OpenOffice.org conference in Budapest by late 2010. Would they do that if they intended to kill the product?. Would they be so stupid? Of course they are not.

This post puts things in a good perspective, when it says “I think this announcement refutes the unfounded concerns of those who though that the buyout of Sun would mean doomsday for Java or OpenOffice. Oracle has an interest in non-Microsoft technologies being promoted. Microsoft’s biggest selling point is being able to sell corporations the entire package of software from the desktop to the data centre. Microsoft Office runs on Windows and is optimized for accessing data in SQL Server.”

It concludes by saying “To the extent that Oracle can introduce technologies that make it easy to access MySQL and Oracle, that’s a plus point for Oracle. That’s why Oracle will keep OpenOffice alive.”. No need to say more, other than Oracle would be foolish not to pursue a dual-strategy of having a cloud-based office, and a traditional, “fat” based office suite to serve the needs of all its customers.

Second Doomsday Prediction: “Oracle will kill MySQL!”
Once again, the mainstream IT press joins the pack of wolves….

October 2009 story in ComputerWorld “some fear that Oracle will bury or weaken MySQL” Again, the key word is “fear”. Who fear that? “Some”. What names? How many? Reasons?. In reality, that never happened. Oracle has been INVESTING in MySQL, as this Reuters story reports here.

And then you see who´s one of the firms behind the criticism… Ingres…. in a story that reads “Ingres criticises Oracle investment strategy for MySQL” . Yes, you read that right: another database vendor criticising Oracle, a competitor, for “not investing enough” really makes this scribblers´ head spin… Why should Oracle do what one of its competitors say?. But the anti-Oracle hysteria doesn´t end here. Bob Evans at InformationWeek cried foul after a recent NY Times story that lashed out at Oracle citing only hearsay and rumours. Read it here.

Ellison´s Open Source ecosystem to fight Microsoft

[The above picture of Larry eating a hot dog is included in compliance with unwritten laws that say that Mr. Ellison cannot be portrayed favourably in any IT press report -F]

Oracle´s healthy Open Source Software ecosystem
To make this story short, let´s focus on Facts not “Fear” of what Oracle has said and done so far:

* Oracle has confirmed that work on the new Java 7 and Java 8 versions will be contributed back as open source, as part of the Open Source, “Libre” (GPL license) OpenJDK project

* Oracle is backing NetBeans with continued investments (despite the fact that Oracle had another, proprietary IDE, Oracle JDeveloper). NetBeans 7.0 is being worked on and the first beta has been released.

* Oracle promised it will release JavaFX 2.0 components as open source when 2.0 is completed

* Oracle is continuing the open source Glassfish J2EE server, with two new releases planned for this year.

* Despite the “Libre”Office fork and its Novell Mono-hooks, Oracle is continuing Open Office development -Release Candidate 8 of version 3.3 was released two weeks ago-. Oracle had to reiterate its continued commitment and support of OpenOffice.org every few months to the point that it´s almost funny. Here, back in January 2010, and again on October 2010.

* Despite rumours to the contrary, Oracle has continued and boosted investment in the Open Source MySQL database. Why? To target Microsoft of course!. April 2010 story from Reutes here.

* Despite rampant FUD for weeks in the Virtualbox users mailing list, Oracle is continuing product development, with version 4.0 just released.

* When Apple announced it was dropping Java support from OS X, Ellison´s firm actually welcomed Apple to join the OpenJDK open source Java project and contribute its until-then proprietary Mac OS X code to create a Mac build of OpenJDK. Everyone wins.

And what pays for all the above?. Oracle´s proprietary database products, of course the kind purchased by Fortune 500 companies. Is that a sin?. If you believe in dogmatic truths as is “ALL software should be free”, then maybe, Oracle are terrible sinners to the Free Software Religion.

But then, without Oracle´s programmers those purists would have to fix bugs and code new features in MySQL, OpenOffice.org, NetBeans, Glassfish, Virtualbox, OpenJDK etc all by themselves. Guess the pace of development wouldn´t be so fast for these FOSS products then, right?.

So, yes, Oracle committed the grave sin of stop pushing OpenSolaris. Hey, something has to pay the bill for all of the FOSS projects above. I´m fine with that. Plus, for those who want free Soalris, there´s always Illumos, the open source fork based on OpenSolaris code.

After seeing all these points, aren´t you happy that Oracle is contributing time, programmers, and money to the advancement of key Free Software projects like Virtualbox, OpenJDK, MySQL, Glassfish, NetBeans, and OpenOffice.org? I do, Thank you, Larry Ellison!,

Oracle will surely make lots of money be selling support and services around these FOSS products to their Fortune 500 clientele -and benefit the Free Software community in the process- by growing the Open Source ecosystem as an alternative to Microsoft´s monoculture.

Larry Ellison has been trying to seed the market so it breaks from Microsoft´s dominance for years. And that is healthy and needed. I remember his “ThinkNIC” low-cost PC effort – preloaded with Linux – fondly. It failed, but was clearly a concept ahead of its time.

In the end, the key when it comes to deciding who helps and who hurts Open Source, is looking at the big picture, not the vitriol-filled comments, the fireworks and scare tactics of a few competitors who have been trying to destroy Java, OpenOffice.org  – and even Oracle – for years.

Free Software outfit spins Ogg

It seems that the Free Software Organisation is just as capable at telling porkies about software as the big evil proprietary outfits.

Hacks at Zdnet have gone through the FSO organisation’s claims about the Ogg music format when they started to report the spat between Apple and Adobe.

 The FSF has started a campaign called PlayOgg, whose goal is to encourage the use of open-source Ogg media formats.

On the PlayOgg FAQ page, they found statements which were a little misleading.  One said that unlike MP3, Ogg Vorbis is not restricted by patents. Microsoft had to pay $1.5 billion after being sued for using MP3 without a license. With Ogg Vorbis, they would have been safe!

However Redmond has not had to pay anyone as the result of a lawsuit on the MP3 format. In February 2007 found for Alcatel-Lucent and against Microsoft in a patent case that lasted seven years.  However six months later the jury verdict was dismissed as being “against the clear weight of the evidence”.

Microsoft began using the MP3 format in Windows Media Player in 1998 however since the  first stable version of the Ogg Vorbis reference software (version 1.0) was not released until July 2002 this would have been a bit tricky.

The FSF  also claims that  RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, iTunes, and other popular formats require people to use non-free software: controlled by companies, not by the users.   However if you write a media player for Windows and can build in support for whatever media formats they want, you are not “required” to use Windows Media Player.

Default Programs menu allows you to replace Windows Media Player with your preferred media player.   One is VLC which uses Ogg so quite why the FSF forgot about it is anyone’s guess.

Accordingly,  Redmond has been quite helpful to VLC and funded the players Windows 7 compatibility programme.

The FSF claims that Windows Media Player spies on users, again without any shred of evidence.

Then there is the question as to whether Ogg formats and codecs are any safer. Zdnet claims that the Ogg formats and codecs simply haven’t been tested in court because as a nonprofit foundation, Xiph.org is a pretty unattractive target for a lawsuit.

If Apple or a Microsoft or a Google decides to build native support for that “safe” codec into OS X or Windows or Chrome OS that could change.

So all up, according to ZDNet, the FSF is telling porkies and spreading FUD as other codecs are equally safe.