Communicating freely

Archive for November, 2006

Giving a helping hand to projects…

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Monday, 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!

Monday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

Wanted: new paradigms

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

I was chatting with some KDE people recently and the discussion turned to collaborative documents.  We were talking about how it would be neat to be able to transparently share data with each other.

Our thoughts were about doing much more than sending a file to someone.  We were interested in how you could use the existing desktop and existing programs, but add a layer to the windowing interface to regulate networked collaboration.

You know, it would be cool to right click my ODT document, select ‘Work Together’ and select a name from my instant messenger.  Then we could both edit the document in real time.

Calenders are another thing worth thinking about.  Yes, there are collaborative calenders.  Yes, you can share appointments.  But somehow it all feels a little clunky.  It still feels like we have not got this mix right yet.

It all boiled down to one thing; the current desktop paradigm is pretty good but we’re hitting some walls when it comes to our day-to-day workflows.  We need to think of ways to fix that.

Is there AJAX in my Ext3?

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

I’m a bit of a dinosaur.  I was around at the end of the nineties when there was all the excitement about the boom, when AOL ate Time Warner, and when people were promising web operating systems running under Java.

Everything kind of went kablooey around 2001.  AOL suddenly were the junior partner in Time Warner. went to dot.bust.  Java was still slow.

“Gosh,” I thought, “how amazingly peaceful everything has suddenly become.”

The investors stopped getting hysterical about websites, the media focused on pornography instead of getting rich by buying domain names, and life went on.  The Internet matured a little and the services gradually got better.  Well, apart from Hotmail.  That got slower for some reason.


Web 2.0 came along.  Investors completely forgot about the craze (maybe because Web 2.0 is a different buzzword), and suddenly my digital life is noisy again.  Last night I found that straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  I read an article about a convergence operating system and I almost sobbed out loud.

Boys and girls, we’re back to hysteria.  Now, for one reason or another, AJAX and Web Applications are going to change everything we do.  The grass will be greener.  The coffee will be sweeter.  We’ll get larger bonuses at the end of the year.

This is all very entertaining, but it’s also a bit of a waste of time and energy.  We have so many important things that need to be fixed and improved, so many areas where we need to expand support.  Email clients need to be streamlined to remove the endless visual clutter and clunky interfaces.  Word processors need to get more net-aware.    I don’t think we’re going to accomplish all of this by throwing half a century of computing into the trashcan and hacking around Javascript pipelines.

Innovation is a wonderful thing but so is proven technology.  I’d like to see a little more balance between the two in the media sphere.

Advocacy for everyone

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

The fellowship of FSFE is currently drafting an interesting new project about advocacy.  It’s here if you want to read more about it.

I’m really excited about this.  I think advocacy is a really important aspect of Free Software at the moment.  We’re moving more and more into the mainstream but there is still a lot of explaining and engagement that needs to be done.

A key thing about Free Software advocacy is to contextualise according to the audience.  People are sensitive about getting preached at.  A business man needs to hear about the bottom line.  A political scientist needs to hear about the social impact.  A programmer needs to hear about how their work will be made more productive.  This does not mean changing the overarching message of freedom, but delivering it with consideration.

The FSFE advocacy project will be building a collection of material to enable people to advocate Free Software effectively in multiple contexts.  The idea is to collect slides, FAQs, essays and everything else that needs to go into a speaker’s tool kit.

Binary blobs are a bad idea

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

I don’t think binary blobs are a good thing for Free Software.  Allowing vendors to produce binary graphic drivers and firmware is understandable from a technical point of view; it gets hardware functional.  However, from the long-term perspective it’s not doing Free Software a favour.

Free Software is uniquely useful because it gives users the power to truly make the most of the technology they own.  They can use, adapts and share it.  It’s a simple idea and an incredibly important one.  Binary blobs are a little blot in the middle of this; they are one small avenue where the user suddenly can do less with the technology.  

I’m not greatly concerned with the binary blobs that exist today.  They are relatively few and far between.  My worry is the precedent that these blobs are creating for tomorrow.  If we accept binary blobs in Free Software then it’s entirely possible we’ll see an increasing amount of them, and user freedom will be gradually eroded.

Some people talk about the need for maximum hardware compatibility to gain users.  This is a valid concern but only part of the big picture; ultimately hardware compatibility is a tactical thing.  The overarching strategy is not hardware compatibility but to increase user freedom.

We need to be careful about the tactical decisions we make or our strategy will be undermined.  This is not about being overtly dogmatic nor is it about being confrontational when it comes to interacting with hardware vendors.  It’s simply a matter of trying to ensure that in the long-term Free Software remains free.