Use GNOME to cross the street

During my keynote at GUADEC this year I mentioned that we should not just look for people who can contribute on the same level as we do in the Free Software community. But that we need to find actions, with a low barrier to participate so our friends, parents, children can also take part.

Matthias Kirschner on stage at GUADEC, CC-By Garrett LeSage

This includes showing others that you support software freedom by using T-shirts, bags, pins, or stickers. I was mentioning that once in Berlin I saw a GNOME sticker over the button of a pelican crossing. But unfortunately I could not find that picture before the talk as I remembered it just the night before the talk, and could not find it on my laptop. Still, during GUADEC several people asked me about that picture again. All I could say was that it was during one of the Linuxtage in Berlin. On my way back I checked my laptops’s hard disk again, but still without success.

A few weeks ago while I was polishing up the notes for the speech about universal computing—so others can reuse them when talking about software freedom—I remembered the picture and I challenged myself to find it. So I spent some more time to dig through my backup disks. Finally I found it, and this week I was also able to find out who the author is.

Dear GNOME community, as a modest gift for the holiday season, here the picture from Linuxtag 2009 taken by Christoph Göhre (can be used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License):

Gnome sticker on a crosswalk button, above it says in German "please touch"

If you could not participate at GUADEC you missed meeting a lot of awesome Free Software contributors, but you can still watch the talk: The video from my keynote is now online. There is also a shorter version from Akademy, as well as a German recording from FrOSCon.

Podcast on non-military use clause in GNU GPL

Last week Tuesday I participated in a German podcast by CCC’s board member Peter Hecko about a non-military clause in the GNU GPL, or other usage restrictions in Free Software licenses. At the FSF 30 birthday party I talked with Peter about Thorsten Schröder’s talk “Free Software against our freedom” at the Chaos Communication Congress, and he invited me for this podcast.

A tank

If you understand German, you can now listen to the podcast. Else my main arguments in a nutshell were: “military” is really difficult to define, it is questionable if someone who kills people would stick to a copyright license, or if it would help anything if military is not allowed to use the Free Software. Furthermore I explained that in the Free Software movement—which is a worldwide movement—we have many different value systems. While some values are shared more widely, there are others people disagree on. We would end up with hundreds of licenses or license additions. We already have way too much licenses at the moment, but such usage restrictions would make it almost impossible to develop software together. By using such restrictions you would also make it hard for everybody who wants to do “good” things with software.

Most of the arguments from the podcast are covered in Richard’s article “Why programs must not limit the freedom to run them” which is translated into several languages.

Happy birthday to the Free Software Foundation

A cake with the FSF30 birthday logo on it On 4 October 1985 Harold Abelson, Robert J. Chassell, Richard M. Stallman, Garald Jay Sussman, and Leonard H. Tower, Jr. incorporated the Free Software Foundation, Inc. The application included also the GNU Emacs General Public License, the GNU Manifesto, a list of software which was already written (Bison, MIT Schema, Hack, plus a list of several Unix utility replacements). In the application they wrote:

We believe that a good citizen shares all generally useful information with his [!sig now Richard would write "her"] neighbors who need it. Our hope is to encourage members of the public to cooperate with each other by sharing software and other useful information.

One of the major influences currently discouraging such sharing is the pratice where information is “owned” by someone who permits a member of the public to have the information himself only on condition of refusing to share it with anyone else.

Our free software will provide the public with an alternative to agreeing to such conditions. By refusing the terms of commercial software and using our software instead, people will remain free to be good neighbors.

In addition, the virtues of self-reliance and independent initiative will be furthered because users of our software will have the plans with which to repair or change it.

The documents at that time still focused on non-commercial software. Later it was clarified that Free Software can also be commercial software.

But else the mission did not change much. What changed is that nowadays we have much more computers around us than people in 1985 could have imagined, and it is deeply involved in all aspects of our lives. It is even more important today than at that time that this technology empowers rather than restricts us.

Free Software gives every person the rights to use, study, share and improve software. During the years we realised that these rights also help to support other fundamental rights like freedom of speech, freedom of press and privacy.

Today computer owners are often not allowed to modify hard- and software of their computers anymore, and people often use other people’s computers for a lot of daily tasks, it is now more important than ever that we have organisations like the FSFs, who work for computer users’ right.

As the President of its European sister organisation I am happy to congratulate: Happy birthday dear Free Software Foundation!!! (Now we can sing that song again.)

And thanks to all of you out there who support the software freedom movement and thereby giving us the strength we need for our future challenges!

Birthday party in Berlin: 30 years Free Software Foundation

On 3 October 2015 Free Software Foundation Europe invites you for the 30th birthday party of the Free Software Foundation. While the main event will take place in Boston/USA, there will be several satellite birthday parties around the world to celebrate 30 years of empowering people to control technology, and one of them will be in Berlin.

FSF 30 year birthday graphic

The Free Software Foundation was founded in 1985 and since then promotes computer users’ rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. It also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software.

The birthday party in Berlin, organised by FSFE, will take place from 15:00 to 18:00 on 3 October 2015 at: Endocode AG, Brueckenstraße 5A, 10179 Berlin.

To make sure that FSFE’s donor Endocode can provide enough birthday cake and coffee, please register before 15 September 2015 for the event by sending us an e-mail with the subject “FSF30″.

Join us on 3 October, celebrating 30 years of working for software freedom!

Dissolving our association

When a group of dedicated hackers founded Free Software Foundation Europe there was no usable legal basis for establishing a European wide legal entity, and it is still difficult to do so. The founders came up with the following approach: create a European “Hub” organisation as an e.V. in Germany as the central legal body, the core of the Free Software Foundation Europe, where the members should be formed by representatives of local FSFE Chapter’s registered in the different European countries. They started to implement this, first the “Hub” and then a German Chapter.

Two man and a child cleaing a carpet

Chapters were meant to be “modular, local legal bodies of the FSFE, formed by the members of the FSFE from that country and sometimes guest members from other countries. Their main function would be to receive deductible donations, where possible.” They should be “integrated throughout the FSFE with their statutes, giving the national teams of FSFE the freedom and autonomy to address the local issues in the way appropriate for the cultural and social identity in those countries.”

In the years afterwards it turned out that for a lot of countries this structure is a problem. There were no benefits from a local association and also often you did not need it to act as a country team for FSFE. There is also additional bureaucracy you have to take care of; filing reports to different authorities, and have certain laws which regulate how you can work together which might not fit the group’s needs.

By the end of 2014, the only other association beside “FSFE e.V.” was “FSFE Chapter Germany e.V.” The members of FSFE e.V. decided on November 9th, 2014, to dissolve the chapter to get rid of bureaucratic tasks and concentrate on our mission.

But dissolving an association is not as easy as you might think it would be. It involved the following steps:

  • discussions with the bank how to transfer the bank account to FSFE e.V.
  • informing the register court about us dissolving. They replied that we have to send that information signed by a notary. We did that. Then they told us, we have to clarify a part, namely that “one liquidator decided alone, several liquidators decide together”. Yes, I think that is obvious, but they wanted it in written form and signed by a notary. The notary also could not believe it, but again we did it.
  • We had to send a notice to an official announcement paper to inform the public that we will dissolve ourselves (yes, you have to pay a fee for that). The liquidation of Chapter Germany was announced on 5 May 2015 in the “Amtlicher Anzeiger” (PDF, page 16) with the date of 13 April 2015.

Now we have to wait until next year April to see if anyone thinks we still owe them money. After this time we can again go to a notary, and then finally close down FSFE Chapter Germany e.V.

My interview for the keynote at Akademy published

I am invited to give a keynote at KDE’s Akademy on Saturday 25 July. In the preparation for the conference Devaja Shah interviewed me, and his questions made me look up some things in my old mail archives from the early 2000s.

The interview covers questions about my first GNU/Linux distribution, why I studied politics and management, how I got involved in FSFE, how Free Software is linked to the progress of society, my involvement in wilderness first aid seminars, as well as my favourite music. (Thanks to Victorhck who translated the interview into Spanish and also added corresponding videos.)

I am looking forward to interesting discussions with KDE contributors and the local organisers from GPUL during the weekend.

Sharing multiple links on Android

Did you try to share several URLs at once on Android before? Until now I copied and pasted each one of the links step-by-step into an e-mail or a text. While checking F-Droid for new programs last month, I discovered bulkshare, which offers an easier way to achieve this task.

First you share each of the links with bulkshare through Android’s share menu. Then you open bulkshare and re-share it with another program. In this step you can choose which of the links you want to share (by default all).

Screenshot of bulkshare with multiple links open

After sharing several links to bulkshare you can re-share all or a selection of them

This way you can share the link list for example with K-9 mail or other programs, edit the text around it and send it out.

Thanks to the author Alex Gherghișan for this nice program.

Final PDFreaders advertisement squashing

We currently wrap-up the PDFreaders campaign, and we need your help to measure our success.

Started in 2009 FSFE’s goal with the campaign was to get rid of advertisement for proprietary PDF readers. We focused on the websites of public administrations, and many people helped us gather contact details for over 2000 public websites which advertised non-free software. Many people helped us to contact the public administrations, governments were made aware of it and published guidelines. Until now we know that 772 of the 2110 bugs were fixed, which is a 36% success rate.

A highway without any advertisement

A highway without any claims by the government which cars you need to drive there, or advertisemt for those cars

But for most countries we did not check the status for several months now. That’s why we need your help now to make one final round. We are looking for volunteers who can help us checking websites in their native language.

Here a step by step guide:

  1. Check the etherpad to see if someone is already working on your country list
    • If yes, please coordinate directly who takes care about what, so you do not waste your time
    • If no, please indicate in the pad that you start to work on it.
  2. For each web page listed on the page or the xml file, go to the web page and search if there is still an advertisement for non-free PDFreaders
    • If yes, keep the bug open.
    • If no, use your favourite search engine with a query like: “site:DomainNameOfOrganiation.TLD adobe acrobat pdf reader
      • If you have no results, close the bug by adding the current date in the “closed” field in the xml file
      • If you have some results and there is still advertisment without also listing Free Software PDF readers, let the bug open and change the link in the “institution-url” field to one from the results you just found.
    • If the link is broken, use the query from the point above
      • If you have some results and there is just advertisement for non-free PDF readers, change the broken url with a new one in the “institution-url” field.
      • If you have no result close the bug by adding the current date in the “closed” field.
    • When you have finished to update, please inform others by updating the status on the public pad and sent the xml file to our web team.
    • Now, you have all our gratitude. Thank you very much!

Afterwards we will send an update about how many institutions removed the advertisement, and what else we achieved together with you in the campaign.

Spread the message with Free Software merchandise

Bag with the slogan "There is no cloud, just other people's computers"

Our "There is no cloud, just other people's computers" bag

For those of you, who are not not subscribed to our newsletter: During the last weeks, many people ordered our “There is no cloud, just other people’s computers” stickers. Now Rich Folsom wrote a Chromium Browser add-in, which converts “the cloud” to “other people’s computers”.

Since so many people like the slogan, we now also have the corresponding “There is no cloud, just other people’s computers” bags in our webshop. Furthermore we have a new Open Standard t-shirt with robots in fitted light blue or a non-fitted khaki, the “I love Free Software” t-shirt in light blue, or a fitted “Hacking for Freedom” t-shirt in grey, as well as the metallic “GNU/Linux inside” stickers and a golden GNU pin.

If you want to spread the Free Software message at work, conferences, or when you are shopping, you can order the equipment on our merchandise page.

Unexpected turn at panel discussion on software patents and Free Software

On Monday 17 March 2015, I participated in a panel discussion organised by the European Patent Office at the Cebit in Hannover. The title of the discussion was “Patents, Standards, and Open Source — a changing landscape”. I prepared to discuss software patents, but something unexpected happened in the panel discussion.

I was invited by Grant Philpott (Principal Director of ICT area in the European Patent Office) to participate in the panel discussion. Beside him as a moderated there were: the following participants: Brian Hinman (Senior Vice President and Chief IP Officer, Royal Philips), Koen Lievens (Director DG1, European Patent Office), and myself.

To prepare I first read the EPO’s position on software patents again, and then prepared for the discussion together with our current interns Marius Jammes, Miks Upenieks, and Nicola Feltrin. So they had to read some articles — including one of my favourites “The Most Important Software Innovations” by David Wheeler — and we discussed the main arguments in favour and against software patents again. That was a good practice for them, as well as for me. After this we were well prepared to discuss details about software patents.

Before the event, Brian Hinman and myself were asked to prepare a short input statement about the “main IP needs of the ICT sector in the future, how you see these being ideally met, and what will need to change in order to get to that ‘ideal’ situation.” (My notes for this statement are below.) This was the start of the panel discussion.

I was astonished what happened when the audience was included in the discussion: almost all their questions were about Free Software, and almost none about patents. Instead of expected comments like “but how do we give incentives to inventors” or “but we have to secure investments”, people were interested in Free Software specifics. From the 45 minutes on the panel we at least spoke 25 minutes exclusively about Free Software business models, compliance issues, copyright management, and why Free Software is important for our society and the economy. Afterwards I spent over an hour to answer several questions from the audience which we could not cover during the disucssion.

So this discussion took a completely unexpected turn for me. But in this case I was very happy about that.

My introduction statement

Today Free Software runs on the majority of computers around the world: from supercomputers and other servers, to robots or space shuttles, to computers we carry around every day in like phones or tablets, to very small computers we often do not recognise as such.

How did we achieve it, that nowadays the most important operating system is Free Software, every company uses Free Software, and that it is almost impossible to develop other software without using Free Software yourself?

We achieved that because Free Software empowers people rather than restricting them. Based on copyright we use licenses which grant everybody the rights to use, study, share and improve software for any purpose.

  • The right to use it for any purpose, garantees that everybody can participate in using and developing software. So there is no discrimination on who can use the technology or for what you can use it.
  • Every Free Software license grants you the right to study how it works: In a world which is as complex as ours we cannot afford to keep things secret if we want to solve problems. Source code plus documentation is the best way to share the knowledge how IT devices work. Publishing source code is also the best way to enable interoperability and therefore competition.
  • To adopt software to your own needs it is crucial that you are allowed to improve it. Technology should do what you want to do with it, not what others thought it should do. So you are allowed to modify all parts of the software, use only parts of it, experiment with it, and combine programs to create new products.
  • Furthermore you have the right to share knowledge and workload with others. We have many problems in the world, which can be solved with software. But we have few people who can actually solve them in a good way. Let us enable them to concentrate on fixing new problems, instead of fixing one which was already solved. So Free Software always allows you to share the software — modified or not — with others.

We guarantee everybody those rights through copyright.


  • Legal issues: too many legal issues around technology. Let people be creative to fix other people’s problems, instead of focusing on problems resulting e.g. out of copyright and patents.
  • Licenses: most FS licenses are much easier to understand than proprietary software licenses. Solution: but still we can make them easier to understand and work with, and have fewer licenses.
  • Patents: problematic to have additional monopolies on principles instead of implementations. Burden to do research what other people already did in a field, the need to negotiate with them, dealing with lawsuits. So stronger clarification that patents on software are not allowed. In case it is not clear if it is software or hardware, patents should not be granted.
  • Secrecy: not publishing the source code and thereby preventing others in society to understand how products work or to make interoperable products. This restriction also continues after the copyright period. Solution: at least publicly financed software (including research) needs to be published under Free Software licenses. This way the results can be integrated in all kind of products. Maybe requirement to depose source code.
  • Restricting hardware platforms: someone else controls what you can install on your computers. Solution: clear right that you are allowed to change software on your computers, and as a company also sell those afterwards.