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Archive for May, 2009

Upcoming Conference – The Open Web

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Since the NLUUG (Open Systems, Open Standards) does two conferences a year, we have to follow up the one almost immediately with the announcement of the next. So, coming fall: the Open Web. Legal, technical and .. whatever is leftical issues around standards and interoperability on the web. HTML5 and video formats? Send in a paper! SaaS and licensing? Send in a paper! Improved javascript enging? Send in a paper! And when I say “send a paper” I mean send in an abstract of 200-400 words *or* a whole paper. Preferably the latter, but I understand that in these complex modern final days an abstract is more likely.

What is it with Open Source and Business?

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

A whitepaper over on the Register piqued my interest, and then lost it, but then I ran across the Linux Days in Geneva which also has a business slant, and that reminded me again.

For the Linux Days there’s a few talks that do interest me: Michel Rocard, but that’s because it’s Free Software and legal issues and patents and things. It almost makes me wonder why he’s not a member of the Freedom Task Force, which is the FSFE’s legal group — I hang out there acting like a techie and talking to lawyers so that KDE people don’t have to (and, if you’re going to Akademy, bring an FLA). There’s something neat about long term document storage (given the NLUUG conference programme, it wouldn’t have been entirely out of place there either) in ODF; there’s thin clients and OpenSocial.

But the rest of the programme just falls a little flat. While the education track looks interesting enough, other tracks are a little depressing in their “Open Source! low cost! reliability!”-ness. Gosh, we need a word for that: neglecting the essential Freedoms that Free Software gives you and focusing on the cost side of things.

Anyway, I’m not writing to criticise one specific conference; to each his own. It’s more the confluence with that Register article on desktop Linux. There’s no mention at all in that article of any specific desktop technologies; it’s a sort of Herb & Jamaal of the desktop. And then it moves on into TCO again. That’s not really the point of Free Software, is it.

[[ There is one interesting bit in the Reg article about target audiences and where transitions to Free Software operating systems on the desktop are most (or least) comfortable. Straightforward office use and basic educational desktops would be good targets for a migration; there's no surprise that specialized workers trained to specific applications have a harder time making a switch -- but that's any switch, not something special to the Free Software desktop. ]]

Public Procurement

Friday, May 29th, 2009

There have been a lot of stories around public procurement of IT services and software lately. Naturally I filter for the ones that say nice things about Free Software or indicate that Free Software is gaining traction in the public sector. I can explain why I feel that governments (at all levels) should prefer Free Software over proprietary software whenever possible, and it comes down to my belief that governments exist to take care of, or improve, the quality of life of their subjects. That’s the moral basis for their existence, and you are right in saying that it’s also stunningly naive of me in practice. So I will claim that governments should do what is best for their people and that short-term TCO calculations, dependency on third parties, vendor lock-in and data hostaging (is there a term for “your own data is stored in a proprietary format that may not even be legal for you to reverse-engineer and extract?”) are not good ways to serve the people. Developing local skills, fostering cooperation and pushing open standards for long-term storage and interoperability is. Now, this isn’t to say that there’s no space for proprietary software at all, but it’s a little like importing rice to feed the populace: something you want to do as little as possible and stop doing as quick as you can, because it places you at the mercy of your food (or software) sources.

Anyway, let’s take a look at a few of the stories: Vancouver embraces Open Source (does this have anything to do with Aaron moving there?). One weird quote in there from Andrea Reimer “now we just have to look forward on implementation and figuring sort of the order with which we do that.” That sounds like there’s goodwill, but no concrete implementation plan to me. Still a step in the right direction. Also from the article: “For example, she said, videos made at city hall, including videos of council meetings, are currently in a proprietary format that cannot be posted on YouTube.” Sounds to me like they need Theora, as YouTube in itself is not a long term storage provider.

Way down in New Zealand there has been some changes in the procurement strategy of the State Services Commission. From the Reg’s reporting (or the SSC statement) it is difficult to say whether this is a real win for Free Software or whether it’s just a no-central-deal-has-been-reached situation where individual departments now strike their own deals. One desirable approach to procurement might be to require an evaluation of Free Software first.

The UK has found some savings, but unfortunately by shifting around proprietary software licenses and not by going for something that is Free (it might not be cheaper, but it will be better controlled in the long run). The hard-to-credit part of the story is actually that specialized tools are (or were) apparently bundled previously, and the savings are to be realized through unbundling.

On the bundling front, though, there’s Romania (also on Glyn Moody’s blog with a variety of very bitter comments about EU politics, further emphasizing that my sunny picture of the duty of government above is totally whack; Romanian translation of the OSOR article also available — it’s an interesting language to try to read). The question to ask is always: at the end of the contract period, what do you have left? And I’m afraid that the answer will be “increased dependence and no software.” Throwing that much money at one or more Free Software companies would change the end results considerably even if in the short or medium term the results are less comfortable.

[[ PS. As far as checking out what kinds of procurement strategies there are and what IT money is spent on, the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) or equivalent might be useful. In the Netherlands we have something called the WOB which makes it possible to request information about the decisions made in council by various levels of government; it seems that Dutch blogger and journalist Brenno de Winter has gone and WOBbed every local council in the country for information regarding their adherence to the national action plan on software procurement. ]]

Linux Gadgets

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Linux gadgets. What’s not to like? vanRijn likes the Palm Pre, or would like it if it was available already. Like him, I spent a long time on Palm Pilot syncing and the enthusiasm for the whole platform just petered out. Handheld device syncing never really took off like one might hope it would, even with OpenSync and other bits and pieces. Perhaps the Pre will turn things around for Palm, and I hope at the same time that they put a little more support into Linux (or Free Software Desktop) syncing this time around.

Me, I think my main desktop sync desire right now is my Nokia 6300 phone. Or it would be, if I cared about syncing my phone book with the desktop at all anymore.

I spotted another searching-for-Linux-gadgets kind of post; is it really so hard to find neat gadgets running a Free Software operating system now? I’ve got three on my desk right now I could enthuse about (a Conceptronic NAS, a Freecom MusicPal and a modded Linksys 54GL) but, truth be told, none of those three are the kind of shiny gadget you’d use in a business setting. They’re boxy and utilitarian even when they’re shiny (this picture has a nice collection of devices, not all of which are Linuxy).

What does make my heart beat faster (and then my brain kicks in, saying that I don’t have time to look in another direction at all) is something like this ARM board. As far as the BeagleBoard goes, I have the baseball cap but no hardware. There are a dozen cool things you could do with these, but after that putting it into a shiny box for consumer use is a big step. Marvell’s SheevaPlug has made the step to stodgy white plastic (but then again, it’s supposed to be a wall wart).

Finally, Aaron writes about gadget integration with the desktop. The relevant part is a bit hidden, so I’ll quote it here:

The project is building a proof of concept device using an Arduino processor with a Bluetooth board attached. When you approach with a Plasma device (well, pending Rob’s GSoC project on Remote Plasmoids) we’ll see that there’s something available via Bluetooth. Plasma will poke the device such that it spits out a Javascript Plasmoid that will then appear ready for action. Walk away and the Bluetooth connection goes away and so does the widget.

It’s not that far from carrying your applications in your pocket and BT’ing them onto the desktop. You can almost see a set of Lego blocks like that carrying around your personal computing environment. It reminds me of a device I saw a few years back which had a full Linux system on a USB stick which would export a display via VNC, so you could plug it in, VNC to the stick and continue working there. I wonder what became of that? In any case, I think there’s enough niftiness out there, just waiting for use.

Release congratulations

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Some days, there’s just too much new software out there at once. Not only has a pony escaped (I met Kushal last in Bangalore), but a tiger is on the prowl (Gökmen, Negril), and KOffice (I know the last time I met Cyrille it was in a large bar, multi-storied, all wood paneling and such and Boudewijn was there as well but I have no clue what year or even what country it might have been in).

KDE in Amharic?

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

I mentioned recently a KDE Amharic (or Ge’ez) translation. Unfortunately, such a thing does not yet exist. My brother is moving to Addis Ababa later this year, though, so I’ll stop by at some point. That is the total extent of my own intentions for Amharic KDE (I do think it is a beautiful script and attended an interesting talk last year about text messaging in Amharic). However, starting a translation effort is relatively simple; the Hausa team (re)started this year. Bear in mind, though, that starting is easy, finishing all 148809 strings is not so.

First off, the statistics for languages currently being translated are on the KDE l10n pages. There’s a “participate” link on that page as well as a translation HOWTO to get you started. Very roughly:

  • Make sure you can enter the characters you need in a text editor. There’s not much point in starting if you can’t enter a እ from the keyboard.
  • Get the very first file to translatie, which is kdelibs4.pot and take a look at the kind of strings in there. I remember with Hausa there were long discussions about some of the terms — especially because there’s often not all that much context available and it can be useful to have a KDE4 installation running and to know where the strings are coming from or being used.
  • Start filling in the msgstr parts. You can use any text editor that supports UTF-8 entry. I used kate for a while. However, there are specialized applications that support translation workflows much better. KBabel in KDE3, Lokalize in KDE4. There’s also po-edit and others outside the KDE world.
  • Translate a few dozen strings in that file. Read the translation howto. Create a suitable directory structure for your language, copy the translated file in there, then .. gosh, I’d have to look up what to do next. I remember that the first real feeling of accomplishment in Kano with the Hausa team was when we’d (I say ‘we’ here very loosely: Mustapha, Ibrahim, Nasiru and the other guys did the translating and I did the typing) translated the KDE About box and some other bits and could start up LANG=ha konsole and read ‘Cire’ in the File menu. There was some compilation and futzing about involved there, which I can reconstruct from my laptop if it still boots.
  • Apply for a KDE svn account, inform the translation team coordinators, and start committing strings. And then send me screenshots :)

Links on Thursday

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Over at arstechnica.com: DRM makes pirates of us all. This is an easy-reading version of Patricia Akester’s own summary of her DRM work. My own take on the issue is that DRM entangles the copyright on a creative work (and copyright is a well understood social contract) with a device used to present, reproduce, or make accessible the underlying work. And the mechanisms used in the device are not held to the same social contract as that of copyright; you end up with the lowest common denominator of copyright and the mechanism, which often means stripping you of the rights you would have under copyright. With an old-fashioned book, the mechanism does very little other than to present the underlying copyrighted work. I can pull a book off the shelf and the book itself poses no additional restrictions. Here’s a quote from an 1829 almanac:

Wij plagten ons Jaarboekje altijd eene vriendelijke groete en eene of andere boodschap, was het niet in verzen, dan in proza, mede te geven.

No restrictions, and in using the creative work the user is obligated to check whether the use is allowed under the rules of copyright. 1829 is sufficiently long ago that any restrictions imposed by copyright are long gone.

With DRM, there is an additional class of restrictions present based on a different social (?) contract. While the user may think they are obtaining a copy of a work under copyright law — and they are — they are also getting an inferior contract because of the entanglement of the work with the device.

It would be interesting to time-travel 90 years into the future and demand, then and there, from the rights holder at the time, a public domain version of the Wolverine movie. That’s the trade off in copyright: you get protection for a limited time, and then the creative work becomes part of the public domain, free for all to use, study, modify (that might make a new creative work) and distribute. And then sue them into oblivion when DRM prevents the rightsholder from fulfilling their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, by that time it’s a bit late to realize that 90 years of creative work is effectively excised from the public domain because it was entangled with devices that were produced with an inferior contract.

So yes, you buy a DVD and you get a device for reproducing a creative work; this device gives you a lousy set of rights. I wonder if it could be argued that this is not publishing and therefore the work on the restrictive device doesn’t obtain copyright protection at all. Then you’d get no fair use out of it either. Good thing this blog entry is peppered with counterfactuals like time travel so I can claim that the whole thing was rampant speculation.

My iPod shuffle — I won one in a raffle earlier this month — is not a matter for speculation. It’s a very peculiar 4GB USB stick, it doesn’t use standard USB cables, and what the heck kind of USB stick has a clip for attaching it to your lapel? (Yes, I know there are enough weird-form-factor USB devices. Don’t send pics.) I’m told it can play music, too, and indeed headphones attached to the device will inform me “Please use iTunes to synchronize this device.” Yeah, right. It’s sufficiently new that gnupod doesn’t support it, but it illustrates in a round-about-way how devices impose additional restrictions on end users.

It reminds me a little of poorly written software licenses. At Free Software legal events I usually use the example of “you may use this software under the terms of the 2-clause BSD license provided you also stand on your left leg.” It’s an additional technical requirement which is is tolerable — but still not right — for a brief time, and then quickly becomes noxious and annoying.

Reasons to attend Akademy

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

A while back Aaron wrote a bit about his reasons for attending Akademy. They aren’t *personal* reasons, but reasons of community building, community growth as well as the “special reason”, the overall question answered at the conference; unfortunately personal reasons will keep him from attending this year. Akademy (the yearly KDE world summit) and GUADEC (the yearly GNOME world summit) are hosted together on Gran Canaria, as part of the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit (GCDS). The reasons for this are twofold: the boards of both projects wanted to try a joint(-ish) conference and that Canaries have a strong track record in Free Software. I suppose you could also claim proximate cause and say that it’s being held there because the boards of both the GNOME Foundation and KDE e.V. decided (following membership consultation) to hold it there.

The generic reasons for attending a large KDE event — community building, putting faces to svn account names, doing design work on a whitboard with a cup of tea and a crowd discussing things and then finally taking a picture and putting it in SVN somewhere as documentation, discovering hidden shared interests and talents (team humongous will be on a foodie rampage, I can assure you) and the simple joy in being together and creating something beautiful and Free — will apply as always. I’ve never been to a GUADEC, but I imagine that the atmosphere there is similar, and look forward to looking around there.

The most generic reason of all to go to a conference is the content thereof; the programme committees of the joint conferences have put together a wonderful set of talks with cross-desktop and project-specific content lasting three days. The keynotes have a few surprises in store for us all.

Still, what’s the special reasons attached to the conference, its overall purpose? I think Aaron does well in aiming squarely for KDE 4.5 — to be released around Akademy 2010, that is. Taking the long view and ensuring the long term stability of the software platform and improving the user experience so that it will keep for a long time is a good thing to do. I have my own list of things that need doing and for which a large-scale event is necessary; they are ancillary to the long term goal and not, strictly speaking, at all essential:

  • Plan how we can expand the i18n efforts in novel locations (I’m thinking Hausa and Amharic for largely personal reasons here).
  • How to get Raffi to do a KDE theme song (because the bananaphone is ringing).
  • Ensure that the legal tidbits around KDE code are explained clearly to all contributors and that newcomers learn quickly how we not only do the technical stuff but the project management and legal mumbo-jumbo around it as well. As part of this we will be encouraging — gently, since it is an individual’s own choice — people to fill in a FLA to simplify our copyright situation.
  • I want to re-connect to the people working on Krazy and the English Breakfast Network. I’m sometimes (often?) better at starting things than seeing them through to to their technical perfection and conclusion, so I’ve been rather disconnected from the goings-on in KDE’s software quality checking system. I know Bertjan is doing cool stuff together with Allen and that Brad Hards is looking into gcc plugins (not necessarily for the EBN, but you never know). A long term plan — where do we want to go with this software quality toolset? what should be its direct impact on KDE code? can we promote the use of the tools and presentation software elsewhere?

I'm going to AkademyA large Free Software project like KDE has many facets. I’m going to Akademy to try to buff up a few of them and to get a picture of what the consensus is on the direction of the project as a whole.

It’s simple!

Monday, May 25th, 2009

The modh coinniollach is not as difficult as it often seems (…) all you need to do is to delete the ‘dh’ from the aimsir fhaistineach and to replace it with ‘nn’.

My brother brought me those instructions out of an Irish paper; I’m sure it’s good grammatical advice, but I find I’m lacking the knowledge necessary to put the advice into practice.

The reason I bring this up is not one of Irish grammar (though you may consider it a shout out to my friend Shane in Japan), but one about context and documentation. I’m an IRC user. Since 1994 or so, and for most of that time I’ve been [ade] or adridg on the networks I use (Ade Lovett used to be without the brackets). For most of that time, screen + ircii or irssi have been my tools of choice — I never could get quassel to do anything useful on the operating systems I use, and konversation, while nice, doesn’t survive my KDE session. So it came as a bit of a surprise to need to use jabber; this is used for FSFE communications, so I started up kopete.

Suffice to say it’s been an extremely annoying three hours of futzing about.

There’s not much point in writing bug reports against kopete from KDE 3.5.10, so I won’t (scratch 20 minutes because a newline got into the server’s hostname when pasting it into the configure dialog); in addition I can’t always tell the difference between a bug and myself being stupid (groupchats are totally different from contacts). The only thing I can sensibly do is add some notes to the wiki for the congenitally IRCed. Now, having written a sentence like “use RMB on the systray, pick and identity and then ‘Join Groupchat…’” I realize that there’s an awful lot of context missing there as well (and it’s o-so-disrespectful of tablet users). I take my cap off for the KDE Userbase editors, for sure.

Sadly enough, this entire tale could be retold with “pdflatex” in the place of IRC and “OpenOffice” in the place of Jabber. I now have a working OOo on FreeBSD 7-STABLE without a JRE, but that too took a measure of doing. It’s just the price you pay when you start interacting with different communities with different tools.

Picknicking for Europe

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

The mother of my children (MOMC) is in Norway for a few days, leaving me with the kids for the long weekend and the school days following. This is a reversal from our usual roles, where I’m galavanting about to Free Software conferences and she’s at home dealing with the kids (and acting as editor for the town paper). It’s been great weather so far, but how do you keep the kids busy?

Oddly enough it was the EU parliamentary elections that provided a solid friday afternoon’s entertainment. I don’t know how it is elsewhere within the union, but the distinguishing trait of the run up to the elections has been a total lack of a campaign, debate, or even information on what the whole darn thing is about. Sure, there’s a few posters up saying “party X is against Brussels” (have you been there? the Brussels cheese is awesome in its horribleness). Friday’s Trouw had a column decrying the lack of content in the election; saturday’s NRC had a half page on this same lack.

Anyway, the Greens were out on the streets handing out invites to a picknick in the park. Since the kids were tagging along on my shopping expedition (shopping list: blue cheese, espresso coffee and soy sauce) I figured it would be a good thing to attend. I added a baguette and some camembert to the list. The campaign trail was said to contain a trampoline and a speech by the leader of the Greens in the Netherlands; one of those must be applicable to a 4- and a 6-year old.

One thing that particularly struck me was the lack of security at the event. National politicians who wander into a park and give a speech and then stick around for a glass of apple juice just seems odd. Good, but odd. Also I realised that explaining democratic structures to small kids is kind of complicated: “but dad, why is there a Dutch parliament as well as a European one?” Is that the principle of subsidiarity at play there?

I’ll leave out the actual political content of the afternoon — it was quite light in payload, but at least there was something, and that made for a refreshing change.

PS. The alternative would be to send the kids to the Glory Hole with Paul Adams (congrats on completing your thesis, dude). That would be humongous indeed.