Tag Archives: Free software

Festival of Economics in Trento, be welcome!

From 30 May to 3 June, Trento will host the 2nd Festival of Economics. This time the topic is “Human capital, social capital”. Thirty thousand people are expected. So if you want to come to Trento, be welcome! Contact me via CouchSurfing and I’ll be delighted to host you, but please read the campaign for a more open CouchSurfing and sign the petition.
The festival will be open by a talk of Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge about “Social capital as an economic institution” and will be closed by the Nobel prize-winner Gary Becker. Have a look at the entire Festival of Economy program, there are many big names. I have to say I’m not satisfied at all with the program. It is very boring and institutional, while the topic of social capital and relationship-based economy is so interesting, exciting and intellectually challenging. And there are a lot of ministers (6, with the Prime Minister Romano Prodi) and a lot of ex-ministers (5, plus many more politicians). It seems much more the festival of the politics than the festival of the economics.
Anyway, at least there will be the Minister of University and Research Fabio Mussi, the Minister for Public Administration Reform and Innovation, Luigi Nicolais and the Chairman of Microsoft Italia and Vice Chairman of the Microsoft Corporation Umberto Paolucci. So that we will be able to ask them about the monstrous deal between Microsoft and Italy (signed by the 2 previously mentioned ministers). More information about the still-secret deal are available thanks to Associazione per il Software Libero: Spunti di riflessione sulle politiche d’innovazione nel settore ICT and Uno studio approfondito sui recenti accordi tra Governo e Microsoft.

The “be very afraid” tour. Can you imagine who is the “artist”?

Eben Moglen, the lawyer of the Free Software Foundation, explains what is very wrong about the Microsoft-Novell agreement.
If you think this is important matter, please donate to the Free Software Foundation now.

Below you can find the video and a transcript of it from Wikisource which is released under the GNU Free Documentation License and hence gives me the freedom to redistribute it here under the same licence.
The “be very afraid tour” video

Transcript from Wikisource released under the GNU Free Documentation License

[Eben Moglen:]

I beg your pardon, certainly, I thought the question was so obvious that it needed no repetition: “Could I explain the threat posed to GPL’d software’s freedom by the Microsoft/Novell agreement?”.

And I’m gonna speak in slightly more general terms than that, beginning with: Imagine a party which wants to eliminate free software’s freedom, or at least hobble its developers in serious ways, so as to inhibit their ability to compete. Imagine that such a party has patents of uncertain validity, but in large numbers, which it could conceivably use to scare developers and users. Imagine that such a party then begins to make periodic threats in the form: “Gee, we have a lot of patents. Never mind how many, never mind what they are, never mind how good they are, we have a lot of patents, and someday something terrible will happen. Don’t use that software.”

Imagine that that’s a strategy that the party adverse to freedom engages in because it’s better than suing. Suing is expensive, suing is irreversible, and suing might actually cause you to have to explain which patents they are and why they’re any good. So threatening is better than suing, okay? Imagine a party who engages in recurrent threats every summertime, for years on end, on a sort of annual “Be very afraid” tour, okay?

I know, it sounds absurd, I know.

Imagine now that what happens is that the annual “Be very afraid” tour starts creating terrible pushback, because people call up, who are the CEOs of major banks and financial institutions, and they say: “Those people you’re threatening are us. We’re the largest, richest, most powerful people in capitalism, and we determine the value of your stock. We think you should be quiet now.”

Okay? That happens if you do this thing, of saying “Be very afraid” to people who have lots and lots of money and lots and lots of power and who control the value of your stock – they will push back. The business model of threatening to sue people works if the people are 12-year-olds. It does not work real well if they are the pillars of finance capitalism. So, as a party engaged in annual “Be very afraid” tours, you’re gonna start to get pushback by enterprise customers who say “That’s us you’re threatening.”.

Now what if you could reduce their sense of being the people who are made afraid? What if you could find a way to give them quiet and peace – and make a little money on the side – so that the only people who are left quaking when you did your annual “Be very afraid” tour, were the developers themselves? Now you would have given yourself a major ecological boost, in swinging your patents around and threatening to hurt people.

Deals for patent safety create the possibility of that risk to my clients, the development community. If enterprise thinks that it can go and buy the software my clients make from some party who gives them peace from the adversary in return for purchasing a license from them, then enterprises may think they have made a separate peace, and if they open the business section one morning and it says “Adversary makes trouble for free software”, they can think “Not my problem, I bought the such-and-such distribution, and I’m okay.”

This process of attempting to segregate the enterprise customers – whose insistence on their rights will stop the threatening – from the developers who are at the end the real object of the threat, is what is wrong with the deals.

So what you ought to do is to say to parties “Please don’t make separate peace at the community’s expense. Please don’t try to make your customers safe, if that’s gonna result in the destruction of the upstream rainforest where your goods come from. We’re an ecological system. If you undermine community defenses you’re undermining the whole ecology, and doing that for the benefit of your customers at the expense of your suppliers is not a good way to stay in business.” So that’s the fundamental discussion about the problem created by such deals.

Now you have the second question, which is: “What to do about it?”, but Joe didn’t ask that question.

[Applause] Yes.

Microsoft trying to use its patents wallet weapon again Free Software. Moglen: “Waterloo is here somewhere”

Interesting article by CNN: Microsoft takes on the free world. Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe.

Some quotes and short comments below.

More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data centers.

I didn’t know. Well, it is becoming harder and harder to dismiss Free Software, isn’t it? And in fact …

Microsoft asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents.

And this is ridicolous, Microsoft is claiming that GNU/Linux developers are studying the patents Microsoft got and copied them? Or it is more that Microsoft is patenting everything (instead of spending the money it gets from its monopolistic position for creating a decent Operating System) notwithstanding evident prior art? Trying to patent smileys? With the US Patent Office
even rejecting a patent previously granted to Microsoft for a file format as “obvious and therefore not subject to patent”? Well the examples could be thousands.

The conflict pits Microsoft and its dogged CEO, Steve Ballmer, against the “free world” – people who believe software is pure knowledge. The leader of that faction is Richard Matthew Stallman, a computer visionary with the look and the intransigence of an Old Testament prophet.

I loved the picture used by CNN

Furthermore, FOSS has powerful corporate patrons and allies. In 2005, six of them – IBM (Charts, Fortune 500), Sony, Philips, Novell, Red Hat (Charts) and NEC – set up the Open Invention Network to acquire a portfolio of patents that might pose problems for companies like Microsoft, which are known to pose a patent threat to Linux. So if Microsoft ever sued Linux distributor Red Hat for patent infringement, for instance, OIN might sue Microsoft in retaliation, trying to enjoin distribution of Windows. It’s a cold war, and what keeps the peace is the threat of mutually assured destruction: patent Armageddon – an unending series of suits and countersuits that would hobble the industry and its customers. “It’s a tinderbox,” Moglen says. “As the commercial confrontation between [free software] and software-that’s-a-product becomes more fierce, patent law’s going to be the terrain on which a big piece of the war’s going to be fought. Waterloo is here somewhere.”

I didn’t know about the OIN but the mention to cold war is really appropriate. And to the possible Armageddon as well. I’m a bit surprised that Microsoft decided to take it so frontal. If they lose this one, it will be one of the last. Obviously they have thought very well about the strategy. Uhm.

Anyway this is one more reason for not embracing software patents in Europe. Software patents don’t make sense but also politicians who seems not too interesting in what make sense but mainly in consensus should understand that letting Microsoft sue European companies and citizens is not a too clever move.

He says that the Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68.

Since you are simply tossing numbers in the air, why not saying that every program violates at least 1.988.456.645.110.000 Microsoft patents, eh?

Stallman demanded that all contributors to GNU projects assign their copyrights to the Free Software Foundation, which Stallman set up and controlled. That meant that anyone who distributed free software covered by those copyrights had to abide by a license Stallman wrote, called the GNU General Public License (GPL).

I think this is the only technical error in the article. I think contributors to the GNU projects retain their copyright and simply decide to use the GNU GPL licence. Am I wrong?

(Stallman insists that “GNU/Linux” is the proper name, and he refuses to give interviews to reporters unless they promise to call it that in every reference. In part for that reason, he was not interviewed for this article.)

I love this man! ;-)

Smith was not to be deterred. Since the GPL covered only distributors of Linux, nothing stopped Smith from seeking royalties directly from end users – many of which are Fortune 500 companies. He would have to proceed carefully, however, because most of those users were also major Microsoft customers.

The terrain is slippery. I’m a bit surprised Microsoft took it so frontal. The article also speaks about Microsoft-Novell deal and this is quite important as well. Anyway we’ll see in the coming months where is the Waterloo. Stay tuned.

Update: Growlaw publishes some reasons for not worrying and they are clever and clearly explained.

Thank Stallman if Dell starts shipping Ubuntu (and keep looking at Microsoft stocks)

I think this is really a key moment in the history of computers and technology. It seems Dell will start shipping desktops and laptops with Ubuntu GNU/Linux preinstalled on it: everyone will be free to choose!
I totally love this post start (duggmirrored): “It’s now official. That’s it, the embargo is over. We can talk.” The news, still unconfirmed, is already reprised by BBC for instance but you can follow the evolution of the media tam tam on technorati.
There will be future days for commenting on this fact, this increase in freedom of choice for all of us, for now let us just rejoice looking at the Microsoft stock slumping.
And in this moment I think the best thing I can do is to pay homage to the man who started it all. Some years ago, when “I’ll create a complete free computer system from scratch” would have seem a so donquixotesque utopic adventure, he had the courage and the will to start the way towards what he believed was the correct thing to do. In this day, I’m really happy to thank Richard Stallman and to quote him from the movie Revolution OS

The whole GNU project is really one big hack, it’s one big act of subversive playful cleverness to change society for the better, because I am always interested in changing society for the better, but in a clever way.

(this video is a part from “revolution os” in which Richard Stallman discusses the birth of GNU and his motivations, I was not able to find the last part of the movie from which the above quote is taken)

The founder of Dell uses Ubuntu

Michael Dell is the founder of Dell, the largest seller of computers in the world. What kind of operating system does Michael Dell have? According to his institutional page on dell.com, his computer runs the GNU/Linux distribution Ubuntu (plus OpenOffice.org 2.2, Automatix2, Firefox! Ubuntu rocks, it is so much better than Windows (very easy since Windows totally sucks) and MacOS that you cannot even imagine. The new version of Ubuntu, 7.04 Feisty Fawn, was just released yesterday. Try it, you will be delighted! If you fear about losing your data or having to spend some time in installing Ubuntu, don’t fear. You can download the Live CD that is a complete installation of Ubuntu installed on the CD itself: you can run Ubuntu directly from the CD without having to install anything and without fearing to lose your data. After some time, if you are satisfied (you will!) you can decide to backup all your data and take the leap into freedom, install Ubuntu. If you are not able to download the Ubuntu CD you can even ask to request Ubuntu CD for free (then please don’t forget to share them with your friends, free software lives for being shared!).

I’m a PC, I’m a Mac, I’m Linux … it is called GNU/Linux

Maybe you have seen the clever Apple campaign “get a Mac”. There are two characters playing “the PC” and “the Mac” and of course the Mac is cooler. Below you can find 6 ads in 1 video, but there are more videos.

But of course the question “Hey where is Linux?” didn’t take time to appear. And Novell (owner of Linux distribution Suse) created 3 PC, Mac … meet Linux ads, in which Linux is played by a woman, a clever move. By the way, say NO to NOvell, choose UbuntuLinux instead. Below you can find 2 of the 3 funny videos.
This video ad suggests that Linux can wear different interfaces and people share new apparels with Linux all the time, while PC and Mac are tied to their single interface for ages. Priceless the moment in which the PC says “I’ll probably wear this for another six or seven years” (referring to Vista interface).

In this video ad, PC and Mac are caught running Linux, but they don’t like to admit it, especially Mac.

Now we all know that the correct name is not Linux (just the kernel) but GNU/Linux (the entire operating system). I mulled over making one more spoof video in which Richard Stallman enters the video after the woman/Linux says “I’m Linux” for stating “The correct name is GNU/Linux!” (credit for the idea) but my video editing abilities are zero. What about yours?

Mobile Open Source, a seminar about Funambol model, licences, cleverness, Italianess

Few days ago I attended a gorgeously shiny (*) seminar by Fabrizio Capobianco entitled “Mobile Open Source: the Funambol model. US capital and Italian heart”. The abstract said “Funambol is the largest open source project in mobile, now reaching one million downloads. Funambol is also a Silicon Valley company, voted among the top 100 private company in America by Red Herring. Founded by Italian enterpreneurs and backed by US Venture Capitalists, it maintains its R&D center in Italy”.
Fabrizio is CEO of Funambol, he told us about what does it mean to run a company in the Bay Area that develops Open Source software for mobiles. He is very clear, very inspiring and very clever. He knows everything about all the different licences, their advantages and their disadvantages and he has been very successful in using them in the right way for his company. Funambol releases its software under 2 licences: GPL licence is the default but, as you probably know, GPL is persistent: if you take Funambol code under GPL, incorporate in your software and you want to release your software with the Funambol code incorporated, you must release everything under GPL as well. Not everyone wants to release all her software under GPL so, in that case, Funambol can release its software under a licence different from GPL. Of course, while everyone can get the software released under GPL for free, if she wants to get a different licence then she has to get a commercial agreement (i.e. to pay) with Funambol. As simple as that.
This is somehow similar to what MySQL company does but it has peculiar characteristics as well.
Note that in order to do this, Funambol must have the copyright for all the software it releases, and in fact this is so. Programmers who contribute their code have to give the copyright of it to Funambol in order to see it enter into the core code maintained by Funambol.
– So who wants to pay for something that is free? In Funambol case, carriers (Vodafone, T-Mobile, …) which don’t want to release all their code but still want to use Funambol open source code.
– So why don’t a carrier rewrite all the code? What is the real competitive advantage of Funambol?
The community! (Incidentally I have to say that what Funambol code provides does not seem terribly complicated. I’m not saying that it is simple at all, I’m just saying that it might seem simple at first glance.) The best and unique asset of Funambol is the community. They have tons of people (mainly IT technicians working for companies all over the world) downloading their code and testing it (because nowadays every IT manager has just one request from managers “let the emails flow seamlessly to mobiles of workers”, Fabrizio said). All these downloaders test the code, fill bug tickets, sometimes contribute with their code for doing simple tasks like creating a new interface between Funambol and the CMS, CRM, ERP, program, whatever they use in the company. Since downloaders are spread all over the world, they also test the code with all the different carriers and with basically every single possible mobile device and they provide back their little hacks. If a company, say Vodafone, would want to reach the same situation, it should pay thousands of people in every country to do this QA (that means Quality Assessment, during the talk I was dumb enough to think QA was “Question and Answering” and in fact it didn’t make too much sense … uhm). The community is really Funambol unique asset. But not everything is that easy and straightforward of course, a community is made by people who have emotions, believes, their original thinking and in fact the company has to be loyal to the community. Fabrizio said that releasing everything under GPL is a way to be loyal to the community, other companies (I think it was SugarCRM) releseas only 70% of their source code under GPL and the remaining 30% is released under proprietary licences so on the mailing list there are often people complaining about it and contributions are not as many as they could be. Funambol models is very clever and something like “we offer to be the gatekeeper (?!?) for the community, we mantain the software, mailing lists, web sites, but we release everything under GPL so everyone can beneficiate. We just charge people who don’t want to share their code. Basically, you either contribute with your code (enriching the community) or you contribute with your money (again enriching the community because we will use the money in order to create even more code and hence features)”. Can you think of a better model? Someone asked Fabrizio about the risk of forking and the reply was that the risk is always there of course and this is what will always keep them loyal to the community, I think Fabrizio believes profoundly in the philosophy of sharing but, just as with Free Software in general, it is reassuringly to know for everyone that the community or just someone will always be free to fork. Again the keyword here is “freedom”.
– So what is the biggest threat for Funambol model? (I hope you are still with me because now arrives the most interesting part of a talk that was already jawing everyone…) Well, you know, software is moving from software you download to services provided over the Internet. Google Office is different from Microsoft Office since Google does not distribute the software but distibute it as a service. When you distribute as a service, the GPL clause does not trigger and you are not forced to release your code under GPL. Fabrizio believes that 90% of the code will be served as service in few years (I’m not sure about this, but at least I believe so) so, for example, Vodafone will be able to provide Funambol code acquired under GPL (for free) as service and will not be forced to distribute all its code. For this reason, Funambol has created a new licence, the HPL (Honest Public License). But first let me enter into the “was not the GPL version 3 about this in fact?”. Well, again, Fabrizio surprised many of us here. He stated that the initial idea of the Free Software Foundation was to enter this concept “redistributing as service is redistributing (and hence the GPL clause triggers)” but that in fact at the moment there is a huge pressure from big players (read “google”) to not include this aspect in GPL version 3. Why? Because, as you probably know, Google is using GNU/Linux as backend and lots of Free Software. If some of the Free Software they use is released under a “GPL version 2 or higher” they are already in trouble since this might mean that they are forced to release all google code under GPL as well! Ok, Linux, the kernel, is not probably going to move to version 3 soon or ever but still this is a big problem. Basically Google will stop use any software that is released under GPL version 3 or keep the present code and fork on this improving the code (still under version 2) but never releasing it anymore (and the same of course is true for Yahoo!, IBM, …) This could easily be the end of all Free Software… well, I’m not sure I explained it very well, but Fabrizio did! So the final line was something like “if FSF insert this concept in GPL ver. 3, we will release Funambol code under GPL v3, otherwise we will submit our HPL licence for approval to the Open Source Initiative and will release our code under HPL”. So what does the HPL say? It is nothing but a slightly modified version of the GPL that simply adds this clause “distributing as service is distributing”. You can read the diff between GPL and HPL yourself. Stay with me as we go meta here. I have a small doubt. The text of the GPL licence itself is licensed verbatim: “Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.” This probably means that Funambol asked the FSF a licence over the GPL licence in order to be allowed to change it?
Ok, in the last part of the talk (I’m quite surprised on how he was able to compress in few hours so many concepts and to explain all of them terribly clearly and also to reply to all our questions), Fabrizio also shared his insights about the fact outsourcing software development in Italy makes a lot of business sense: basically, (1) Italian programmers are paid very little compared to all the other European Countries, (2) Italy has good protection for copyrights, (3) Italian programmers are in general loyal and (4) there are no venture capitalists in Italy. (2), (3) and (4) means your programmers will not steal your code, run away with it and fund an independent company, something that is more likely to happen, for example, in India.
This is what he calls the “Funambol model” and he is trying to spread it all over the Bay Area. So, please, do come in Italy, do exploit us, we’re waiting! ;-)
Now I try to get the hands on Fabrizio’s slides and update this post with a link to them.

(*) About the “gorgeously shiny seminar” expression, yes, I like to exagerate with adjectives I don’t even precisely know the meaning of. It is one of the pleasures of writing (and speaking) in English I let myself into. Hope you don’t mind.

Cool Trashware Video

Incredibly cool video about what “Free Geek” is doing. Free Geek is a Non-profit community organization providing free computers and education to those in need through the reuse and recycling of old computers.
This is what we are trying to do here in Trento as well with the “ComputeRinati” association (in general this activity in Italy is called Trashware), but hey we are nowhere near what Free Geek is accomplishing.

Link to “Free Geek” Video
And since I’m there, Microsoft just shipped Vista, the long-awaited operating system that does nothing that was not already possible with MacOSX since some years (and actually also with GNU/Linux with just some extra tweaking). But Vista requires a lot of RAM and resources actually forcing a lot of people to buy a new computer and dump the old one (for example there is a report claiming that “the system’s full range of tools would be available to less than 5 per cent of Britain’s PC market”). Don’t you think Microsoft should be taken responsible for the quantity of e-waste it is causing with the release of this deadly operating system?
Follow my suggestion: take the chance to switch to GNU/Linux, Ubuntu for example. Feel free to ask me suggestions on how to do it, there is surely a Linux User Group close to you willing to help and to share knowledge.
[via an email of Paolo Palmerini in the Trashware mailing list]

“Cosa e’ Software Libero” explained with videos of Stallman

richard stallmanGreat explanation (in Italian!) of what is Free Software by Robin Good. It contains also videos of Stallman (both on Youtube and in non-proprietary format OGG) interviewed by Robin. Looking at the first video, I wondered “how many times Stallman repeated the mantra <Freedom 0 is the freedom to run the program for any purpose (…), Freedom 1 is the freedom (…)> (This is of course what he repeated precisely also when he came in Trento).
More than 1 million times? I guess this is what happens when you are so ahead in time than your fellow citizens, Stallman started to speak about these concepts in the 70s and he still has to repeat them precisely the same after more than 30 years! I guess it is very boring for him. Luckily enough for Richard, Robin also asked him “Qual è il ricordo più bello del tuo soggiorno a Roma?” (What is the best memory of your staying in Rome?”) and the answer is … well, go see the videos.
Richard speaks in English but in the blog post there is the translation in Italian, so it is also a good excuse to learn a bit of my wonderful language. ;-)
[via gnuvox] [photo curtesy of guadalinex]

Second Life source code now as Free Software!

Just yesterday I was watching the YouTube video in which Ethan Zuckerman argues with Charles Nesson about Second Life. Charles Nesson is William F. Weld Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and he started an Harvard course inside Second Life. Ethan contested the fact that Charles in this way is creating “Intellectual value” that is locked in a proprietary platform where he is not able to get it back, and that with his reputation is giving a lot of visibility to Second Life in exchange for nothing and urged Charles to embrace open source alternatives, such as OpenCroquet.
At the end of the video Charles committed sepukku and this is a pity because this was not needed … it is in fact news of today that Second Life released its source code under a GPL licence, hence making it Free Software. The title of the post on Second Life’s blog announcing the huge news is particularly appropriated as well “Embracing the Inevitable“.
So now we have this great Second Life world that is Free (as in Freedom), we will soon have Ryzom Free, we now just wait for World of WarCraft to not wait until they are desperate to embrace the inevitable, and Free their source code: the inevitable is that PlaneShift or some other MMORPG already released under GPL will make World of WarCraft desperate.
“May you live in interesting times”, well, are we not? Is there anyone out there able to forecast what will happen in 1 or 5 years of Second Life now that its code is liberated? I doubt it. We live in really interesting times.

UPDATE: thanks to a comment by Francesco, I now know that Ryzom.org offer to buy the source code of Ryzom and make it free was not accepted since there were bigger monetary offers. I guess they will have to embrace the inevitable as well, sooner or later. Sooner would have been better for everyone.

UPDATE #2: I blogged too quickly and too enthusiastically the news. The points made by Ethan in his post are totally correct: LindenLab just released the code of the client (in some sense hoping to outsource the development to the Free Software community, while they maintain the code of the server absolutely proprietary and hence I cannot run my SL universe (as Francesco notes as well in the comments). Anyway I still think it is a positive news. For example now that the client code is available it would be easier to start from scratch a compatible server on SourceForge (or am I wrong again?), anyway go read the points made by Ethan because they are much deeper and more interesting than mine!