Communicating freely

Archive for October, 2006

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.

Doing the European cafe thing

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I’m sitting in a cafe in central Zurich.  I’m about two minutes from the new FSFE office.  It’s quite a change of scene from Ireland.

I moved to Switzerland to begin working as a project coordinator for the Free Software Foundation Europe at the end of September.  We’re doing some exciting new things to protect and promote Free Software in the European arena and the Zurich office will be in the middle of all the adventures.

Free Software has really come along in the last few years.  The Linux kernel is powering a heck of a lot of computers and GNU/Linux operating system distributions are being deployed in increasing frequency.  Perhaps the most important change is political; Free Software is entering the mainstream.

I feel that 2006 is something of a turning-point for Free Software.  A new license is on the way (GPLv3).  Cities are transitioning to our technology.  Big vendors like IBM, Sun and Novell are increasing their commitments to our success.

Sure, not everything is rosy.  There is still bickering in the sidelines about stuff like ‘Free Software’ vs ‘open source’ and GPLv2 vs GPLv3.  Flame wars still appear on sites like Slashdot.  But I think if we look at the bigger picture things are going very well.

One thing I’ve been talking about for a while is the increasing maturity of the Free Software ecosystem.  That is, the extension of Free Software into realms far removed from the hackers who often created it.  I believe this extension is particularly important in the political and business spheres.

We are seeing the emergency of a ‘professional’ layer in the Free Software world; these include managers, salespeople and marketing experts.  I think this is an excellent and necessary step to ensure the long-term adoption of Free Software by society as a whole.  The concept is permeating beyond its creators and entering social consciousness.

Yes, these are exciting times.

I’m delighted that I am participating in these times through the Free Software Foundation Europe.  We have a great deal of work to do.  It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be fun.

I will try to document my adventures through my blog as often as possible (and my apologies for the relative neglect in the last few weeks).  If you need to contact me you can do so through email (,  In the meantime – if you have a moment – I’d love to hear your comments on where you think Free Software will go in the next twelve months.

Anti-DRM protest in Zurich

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Today was busy. I was up at 5.30am and by 7.40 I was in a print shop getting posters and banners made for an anti-DRM protest outside the Dataquest store in Zurich. Dataquest are the main Apple reseller.

It’s been a while since I was at a protest and I had a lot of fun. I’m new to this city and I met the Free Software crowd for the first time. Everyone was taller than me. Why are people so tall in Switzerland?

The people passing our protest were really engaging. For the most part the average ‘person on the street’ was supportive of what we’re doing. I gave out a ton of leaflets and felt a particular type of victory for each person who picked up a leaflet before entering the Dataquest store. One guy picked up a leaflet, glanced at the content and said “this is why I’m not buying an iPod”.

After we had informed the good citizens of Zurich about DRM we visited the new FSFE office and then went to a nearby cafe. I had a very nice chicken sandwich and a reasonable coffee. One of the most striking things about this town is the quality of the food and drink.

It’s now 18:30 and I’m writing this blog entry while thinking about the new website. It’s a pretty exciting portal. The FSFE and several partner organisations are sharing their views on DRM through this site and I think it’s going to be a major source of positive education. It also has one important extra feature; there is a photo of me: Ah, fame at last.

I’d like to apologise for neglecting my blog for a while. I’ve got a ton of news to share with you and I’ll start with a post about my new role in Switzerland soon.