Communicating freely

Archive for the ‘Free Software’ Category

Amazing art (powered by Free Software)

Monday, July 16th, 2007

I recently saw an amazing Free Software-powered art project in Z├╝rich.

This is amazing...these wires are sending signals to rat cells! 

Basically it’s  a series of sensors that connect (via the Internet) with a cybernetic chip containing living cell tissue in a lab.  When people touch the poles they send a signal to individual cells.  These cells return a signal, and that causes noise to come out of a speaker just above the pole.  You can even train each cell to react in a different way.

Close to blade runner

I’ve really never seen anything like this before.  The most amazing thing is that the guys who build this engineered the sound system on a FPGA and built almost everything using Free Software.  I even saw that some circuit boards they had designed were released as copyleft.  The only non-Free software is a bitstream loader for the FPGA.

Kudos to them!

(The pictures here are from the Neuroom website, and reproduced with permission).

Free Software acquisition by governments (another note!)

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Stef was recently talking about Free Software acquisition by governments and I wanted to add my two cents.

I agree that increased adoption of Free Software in public administrations requires more support and deployment infrastructure.  Procurement guidelines need to be drafted with an awareness of Free Software.  Purchasing managers need to be trained in the benefits it offers.

It is true that the US government is increasingly supportive of Free Software.  The NSA is putting considerable effort into development efforts, and the Department of Defense is adopting Free Software solutions.  In Europe, the decision in Italy to move various government computers over to Free Software is to be applauded.  It’s a good first step in the right direction.

Let’s not be complacent though.  We still have a long way to go.  We need more advocates.  We need more training.  Outreach efforts are a critically important part of the growth of our movement.

At the Italian conference on Free Software (day one!)

Friday, May 11th, 2007

I’m currently sitting in the main lecture room of the Italian conference on Free Software in Cosenza, Italy.  Stefano is sitting beside me and we’re both being very digital (our laptops are active).  Armijn Hemel of fame is keeping me company on Jabber.  It’s a Free Software family moment.

Speaking of family, at this very second Plussy, the FSFE fellowship logo, is on-screen as a border in a presentation.  A professor who developed a tool to teach programming is speaking.  He’s talking in Italian, but the interpreter is doing a very good job of making sure I know what’s happening.

It’s a very good atmosphere here.  Loads of fellowship people, lots of interesting conversations.  I’m reminded of the dynamics of the FOSDEM conference (which was a ball), though this conference is less technical.  Updates to follow…if my laptop battery holds out…

The Freedom Task Force: supporting the larger eco-system

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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.

Why EULAs are good for Free Software

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

End User License Agreements (EULA) are something that people using non-Free software encounter all the time.  These agreements spell out the terms that limit your use of software.  Recently I read an article about the new Windows Vista EULA.  It’s really something else.  This agreement brings ‘restrictive’ to a whole new level, and I think that’s good news for us.

Windows Vista will only allow you to re-register the software once.  Windows Vista will not allow you to run virtualisation unless you buy the expensive professional licenses.  Windows Vista will not allow you to publish benchmark figures without following strict Microsoft guidelines.  It’s amazing.  It’s manna.  It’s developer suicide.

Instead of learning from the exploding Free Software ecosystem, and admitting that sharing is good for users and for technology, Microsoft are clamping down in an unheard of way.  They are slamming the door shut on their product and attempting to squeeze every last dollar out of their users.  In doing so, Microsoft are bestowing a gift on the Free Software community.

Once Windows Vista is released it will be more obvious than ever that non-Free software is simply not a good idea.  It has always locked people into paying extortionate rates to vendors, but now it’s going to lock people into everything.  People will be locked into the hardware on their desk (they can only change it once).  People will be locked into using real computers even if virtualisation is a better solution (remember; virtualisation is illegal without the expensive professional packs).

At the very same time as this disaster unfolds Free Software is doing pretty well.  We have some stunning distributions at the moment.  We have a growing professional support infrastructure.  Our licenses clearly empower our users, and the emerging GPLv3 is going to work towards future-proofing the situation.

I’d like to see a lot more positive engagement with why Free Software is a good idea.  People often talk about why non-Free is bad…or bicker about the GPLv3…but I’d like to see people discussing what’s cool about Free Software.  I think in a few months a whole lot of people are going to be scanning the Internet looking for alternatives to the Windows Vista jail, and it’d be nice if we had clear answers to their needs lurking on pages, blogs and feeds.