Communicating freely

Thoughts on how we can all talk a little easier, and how that can make life better.

Podcast interviews with Simon (Sun) and Tim (Chaos Radio)

March 5th, 2007

I was at FOSDEM recently and bumped into Simon Phipps from Sun Microsystems.  The last time we spoke was at LUG Radio Live so there was a lot of catching up to do.  

Simon has beaten me into the podcasting world with his new LiveMink show.  He interviewed me about the Freedom Task Force and I’m pretty happy with the result.  We recorded the show sitting on a stairwell in a dusty hallway about four metres from the action-packed FOSDEM hallway and yet (astonishingly) the sound quality is fine.  Kudos to Simon and his nifty microphone.

This was the second podcast I had participated in over the last couple of weeks.  When Tim Pritlove of Chaos Radio was in Zurich we had a chance to record together.  It was the first time I had the opportunity to speak properly with Tim and I have to say I was impressed with how he organises his show.  It was a genuine pleasure to chat.

Ah!  Now, when will I get my own podcast?

The Freedom Task Force: supporting the larger eco-system

December 13th, 2006

I remember the first time I encountered Free Software in the real world.  It was 1995 and I was in a small sailing dingy (a GP14) 2km from the Irish shoreline.  At the tiller sat Tom Kelly, a family friend.  He was talking about something called ‘Red Hat Linux’ and how his son had started to use it on servers at RTE, the Irish television and radio broadcasting group.

We’ve come a long way since then.  The Free Software eco-system has grown from its humble technical origins into a worldwide phenomenon.  It turns out that the four freedoms are much more than wishful thinking; they are an essential ingredient in making good ideas into a great reality.  The engagement of companies like IBM, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, Philips and Google in Free Software is a testament to that.

For one reason and another I’m now running a project that has its part to play in solidifying the long-term infrastructure of Free Software.  I’m the coordinator of the Freedom Task Force, a networked licensing services group operating from FSFE’s Zurich office.  The FTF’s job is to help bolster the legal foundation of Free Software in Europe.  We educate and train people in Free Software licensing.  We provide legal guardianship for projects.  We help resolve licensing violation issues.

I’m not going to list the FTF services here.  You can read all about them on our website.  What I want to do instead is talk about why the FTF is a good idea, and why I think it deserves your support.

Free Software is bigger than technology.  It enables people to get things done.  It allows people to communicate with each other.  It allows people to collect and access information.  It allows people to generate new material to share with others.  That’s why I use the word ‘eco-system’ when I refer to the overarching Free Software community.  There are designers, programmers, marketing people, business consultants, salespeople and users in this mix.  It’s a genuinely huge field.

One important aspect of any diverse eco-system is its ability to sustain itself, to grow and to protect itself where necessary.  To avoid the boom and bust contractions of unstable markets there needs to be a strong foundation made up of several elements.  These elements include aspects of technical engineering like quality and function, and less tangible things like legal coherency.

A strong legal backbone is truly important to allow day-to-day technical work translate into overall community growth year-after-year.  It facilitates fair transactions and practices, it mediates interactions within known parameters.  The legal sphere is about defining ‘official’ interactions between disparate parties.  It ultimately creates a level playing field for everyone.

The FTF is part of the legal backbone for Free Software.  I wouldn’t say we are the decisive part (no one entity could realistically make such a claim), but we have our contribution to make.  We help to network the legal players in the European arena, we help to educate people, we help with training and we provide one point of contact for impartial advice and consultancy.  It’s our job to work in the background to build channels through which Free Software can operate effectively.

An example of how this works in practice can be provided by our recent deal with the Bacula Project.  Kern Sibbald, the creator and maintainer of the Bacula network backup software, recently signed a fiduciary agreement with us.  The FTF is acting as the legal guardian of the project, allowing Kern and his developers to focus on making sure their solution remains a leader in its field.  It’s pretty cool to be able to lend a hand like that, and it’s also pretty cool to be getting signed copies of the FLA from places as far afield as Texas.

I’d like you to contribute to the FTF.  Your help will have a direct impact on our work, and there are many ways that you can lend it to us.  The primary point of contact is our public mailing list; FTF Discussion.  This is where we talk about documentation, where we discuss issues together, and where people can get in touch with other players in the Free Software arena.  Do consider joining.

We’re also looking for help in building more concrete European licensing networks.  Are you a legal or technical expert?  Do you know people who are?  Contact us.  Let’s work to bring all the disparate parties through all our countries closer together.  I firmly believe that increased cooperation is essential to allow us to accomplish our goal of pushing Free Software further into the mainstream.

I’m going to be on IRC for two hours this Friday.  You’ll see me there as ‘shanecoughlan’ between 9am and 11am GMT time (10am to 12 noon CET).  The server is freenode, and the channel is #fsfeurope.  I’d be delighted to answer any questions you might have about the FTF, to discuss potential routes of involvement, and to chat in general about Free Software licensing in Europe.

Monday musing

December 4th, 2006

It’s Monday morning and the weather is playing its usual tricks.  When I woke up there was mist everywhere.  On my way to the office there was a nice steady ‘London drizzle’.  Now the sun is out and the sky is blue.

Switzerland likes to keep one on one’s toes.

As soon as I got to the office I started to browse through the news to see if anything exciting had happened over the weekend.  Some AMD troubles, Corel are going to support ODF, and more than a thousand people are dead or missing in the Philippines after mudslides.

So far nothing new on the Thai government’s increasing distance from Free Software.  Since the Junta took over there have been some changes on the technology front.  The latest was the cancellation of Thai participation in the One Laptop Per Child project.  

Digging a little deeper things get very mysterious.  The links from the Bangkok Post that proclaimed both the cancellation of the One Laptop Per Child participation and the original rejection of Free Software inside Thailand are both dead.  Indeed, the Bangkok Post is running a front-page story about development of ‘Linux for the Desktop’.

I wonder what’s really going on there.

Anyway…onward…it’s going to be a busy day.

Ramblings about Zurich

December 1st, 2006

This week was a week of discovery.  I discovered that there is a Korean/Japanese store in the centre of Zurich (thanks Georg).  I discovered that Korean udon is not as nice as Japanese udon (sorry guys).  I discovered that Credit Suisse has a great restaurant in their HQ (kudos to Eric for inviting me there).

Perhaps the most important thing I have discovered is that there has been lots of positive karma around the Freedom Task Force project.  It’s really cool to have developers, projects and businesses tell you that they like what you’re doing, and that’s exactly what’s been happening.  It’s nice to know that the FTF is providing something useful.

Hey, would you like to lend a hand?  We’re putting together some educational material to help people engage with Free Software licensing.  You can help out by joining the FTF Discussion mailing list.

Giving a helping hand to projects…

November 21st, 2006

I have some really good news. It’s something I have been excited about for a while but I can only share today. It was all hush-hush while we sorted out the details.

Anyway, here it is. Press release snippets:

The Bacula Project has became the first signatory of the Fiduciary Licence Agreement (FLA), a copyright assignment that allows FSFE to become the legal guardian of projects.

Kern Sibbald, the founder and lead developer of the Bacula network backup solution, assigned his copyright to FSFE. “I wanted to underline the commitment of the Bacula Project to Free Software,” said Kern. “Bacula has always been a community project and we’re just solidifying that for the long-term. I am very thankful that the FSFE is providing this service because it removes an important administrative burden from the project, which allows us to focus on the task of programming.”

“We are delighted to help Bacula accomplish its full potential. The Free Software ecosystem is maturing rapidly these days and the Freedom Task Force with its Fiduciary Licence Agreement, licensing education, licensing advice and enforcement services is an important part in this,” explains FSFE president Georg Greve. He adds: “We very much thank Stichting NLnet for doing their part in making this possible, and hope that others will step up to likewise support this effort.”

Yes, that’s right. The Freedom Task Force is pro-actively helping projects become safer while allowing developers to spend more time coding. I’m really glad we can offer a service like this to the Free Software eco-system and it’s going to be fun welcoming more projects on board.

You can check out the FTF homepage right here:

Planet fellowship

November 20th, 2006

The fellowship of FSFE has just gained a planet! All of the blog entries from all of the fellows are now neatly collected into a stream at

The RSS feed is here:

I have to say I think this is pretty cool. The fellowship is a diverse collection of Free Software supporters from all over Europe and further afield. Having a unified way to read everyone’s thoughts is refreshing. It’s also good for the lazy side of me. My email client delivers each fresh round of postings without needing to open a browser.

A lazy afternoon in Switzerland

November 19th, 2006

It’s Sunday and in Zurich that means everything is closed. This provides an excellent excuse for me to head away into the hills for a while.

I’m glad to have some ‘down-time’ this weekend. It was a busy week for the Freedom Task Force. We had some really interesting questions about development methods and best practice. During the week I also had a productive meeting with a Swiss company. We talked about how SMEs in Switzerland can be encouraged to adopt Free Software.

Speaking of Free Software, interesting things are happening regarding GPLv3. The fifth GPLv3 conference kicks off on Tuesday in Japan. Georg Greve, FSFE president, and Ciaran O’Riordan, our GPLv3 ninja, are in attendance. You can find out more about the conference here.

Yup, so while those guys are enjoying yakitori and sake I’ll be manning the desk here at FTF HQ. If you want to send me a licensing question or just keep me company you can do so through this address:

Sun, Java and the FTF

November 13th, 2006

Java is now going under the GNU GPL. This is great news. Java always delivered transportable services in a really cool way, but the underlying system was controlled by one company and that left a question mark over its long-term future. It is to Sun’s great credit that they recognised this and that they recognised that only Free Software could provide a solution.

Everyone is going to gain from Java going GPL. Developers have the assurance that Java is Free and will remain Free forever. Users have the assurance that their platforms are open to adaptation, improvement and are fundamentally substitutable in ways that are only possible with Free Software. Sun has just harnessed the brain-power of thousands of the finest development minds by opening Java to the world. This is now our language. This is our solution.

Free Software has been in the mainstream for a while. Our technology is powering hundreds of millions of devices and Java bolsters this. It’s another support strut in the foundation we’ve built. It’s a foundation that ensures people have access to and control over the systems that they use.

FSFE’s Freedom Task Force (FTF) is part of the growing Free Software eco-system. We’re here to provide a pillar of support with regards Free Software licensing and legal issues. We help people understand the emerging technologies and licenses and we help make sure everyone gets the maximum benefit.

I guess I’m going to have an interesting week. It was looking crazy enough with our formal launch of the FTF this morning, but Sun’s move to make Java Free has really let the cat out of the bag. Free Software licensing and its implications are most certainly the topic of the day.

Well, we’re here to answer questions. That’s why I have a comfortable white desk and a neat IKEA chair in our Zurich office. We want to help you work out what you need to do, what the implications of all this stuff really is, and what benefits have just been placed on the table for everyone.

Let’s chat.

Send me a message

Belgium: +32 2 747 03 57 ext 408
Switzerland: +41 43 500 03 66 ext 408
UK: +44 29 200 08 17 7 ext 408
Germany: +49 700 373 38 76 73 ext 408

Free Software Foundation Europe
Freedom Task Force
Sumatrastrasse 25
8006 Zurich

The Freedom Task Force goes live!

November 13th, 2006

At the fellowship meeting in Italy we had a special announcement.  It’s time to share that announcement with everyone who couldn’t make it to the meeting themselves.

Today FSFE is launching the Freedom Task Force (FTF).  This is a project that will help solve Free Software legal issues.  The FTF will deliver three things:
License education
Fiduciary services
License enforcement

The FTF is a shield for Free Software.  We’ve assembled legal and technical experts.  We’ve entered into a long-term partnership with  We’ve begun to forge productive relationships with businesses, projects and other key players in the Free Software eco-system.

You can find out more about the FTF here.  If you want to contact us, you can do so here.  Comments, suggestions and questions are welcome, as are requests for assistance.  

This is a very cool time for our community.

Dim sum in Zurich

November 8th, 2006

Alright, here’s my confession: I love dim sum.  I know it’s not the most healthy food in the world.  I understand that it’s making my stomach padded.  But…gosh…it’s nice.

There is a little dim sum joint beside Zurich HB.  I pass it every day on my way to the office.  In the last two weeks I’ve given into temptation three times while coming and going.  I couldn’t help it.  I was powerless.


In other news, I’ve been using Quanta for a couple of days.  I was previously playing with NVU but found it a little sluggish and buggy for my cut-and-paste, drag-and-drop mentality.  Quanta is my ‘let’s alter Shane’s workflow and make him more effective’ alternative.  So far our marriage is a little rocky but there exists the potential for love to bloom.