Looking out over the horizon

July 6, 2014 3 comments

The last couple of weeks have been filled with resume-sending, waiting by the phone for the resumes to do their trick, and a trip to Arizona for a plethora of family reasons (wife went to do some New Age thing in Sedona while daughter visited friends in Phoenix — heck, I even got a phone interview with a tech company there). But while I was driving around the Southwest, a few things crossed the proverbial radar that deserve special mention, like . . .

Congratulate me, I’m an “extremist”
: And give yourself a good pat on the back, too, because if you’re a Linux Journal reader, the NSA thinks you are an “extremist,” too. Kyle Rankin reports on the site on the eve of Independence Day — irony much? — that the publication’s readers are flagged for increased surveillance.

LJ-Extremist-red-stampThat includes — oh, I don’t know — just about everyone involved to some degree with Free/Open Source Software and Linux (and yes, Richard Stallman, that would also include GNU/Linux, too), from the noob who looked up “network security” to the most seasoned greybeard.

Rankin writes, “One of the biggest questions these new revelations raise is why. Up until this point, I would imagine most Linux Journal readers had considered the NSA revelations as troubling but figured the NSA would never be interested in them personally. Now we know that just visiting this site makes you a target. While we may never know for sure what it is about Linux Journal in particular, the Boing Boing article speculates that it might be to separate out people on the Internet who know how to be private from those who don’t so it can capture communications from everyone with privacy know-how.”

So, a quick note to our friends in the main office of the NSA in Maryland, where someone has drawn the unfortunate assignment of reading this (my apologies for not being a more exciting “extremist”) because . . . well, you know . . . I’m an “extremist” using Linux. Please pass this run-on sentence up your chain of command: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

That’s the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in case you hadn’t noticed.

One more thing: Linux Journal webmaster Katherine Druckman (sorry, the term “webmistress,” as noted on the LJ site, needs to be thrown into the dustbin of history) says that, yeah, maybe readers are a little extreme and asks readers to join them in supporting “extremist” causes like Free/Open Source Software and hardware, online freedom, and the dissemination of helpful technical knowledge by adding the graphic featured above (it comes in red, black, or white) to your site, your social media, or wherever you deem fit.

On a more positive note . . .

Introducing Xiki: Command-line snobs, welcome to the future. In a Linux.com article, Carla Schroder introduces Xiki, an interactive and flexible command shell 10 years in the making. It’s a giant leap forward in dealing with what some consider the “black magic” of the command line, but Carla points out another, more significant, use for the software.

Carla writes, “When I started playing with Xiki it quickly became clear that it has huge potential as an interface for assistive devices such as Braille keyboards, wearable devices like high-tech glasses and gloves, prosthetics, and speech-to-text/text-to-speech engines, because Xiki seamlessly bridges the gap between machine-readable plain text and GUI functions.”

It could be the next big thing in FOSS and deserves a look.

Another day, another distro: Phoronix reported last week a peculiar development which either can be considered yet another Linux distro on the horizon or a bad joke.

According to the article, Operating System U is the new distro and the team there wants to create “the ultimate operating system.” To do that, the article continues, the distro will be based on Arch with a modified version of the MATE desktop and will use — wait for it — Wayland (putting aside for a moment that MATE doesn’t have Wayland support, but never mind that). But wait, there’s more: Operating System U also plans to modify the MATE Desktop to make it better while also developing a new component they call Startlight, which pairs the Windows Start Button with Apple’s Spotlight.

The team plans a Kickstarter campaign later this month in an attempt to raise $150,000. A noble effort or reinventing the wheel? I’d go with the latter. Our friends at Canonical have dumped a ton of Mark Shuttleworth’s money into trying to crack the desktop barrier and, at this point, they have given up to follow other form factors. Add to this an already crowded field of completely adequate and useable desktop Linux distros that would easily do what Operating System U sets out to do, and you have to wonder about the point of this exercise.

Additionally, for a team portraying itself to be so committed to open source, there seems to be a disconnect of sorts around what community engagement entails. A telling comment in the article is posted by flexiondotorg — and if it’s the person who owns that site, it’s Martin Wimpress of Hamshire, England, an Arch Linux Trusted User, a member of the MATE Desktop team, a GSoC 2014 mentor for openSUSE and one of the Ubuntu MATE Remix developers.

Martin/flexiondotorg says this: “I have a unique point of view on this. I am an Arch Linux TU and MATE developer. I am also the maintainer for MATE on Arch Linux and the maintainer for Ubuntu MATE Remix.

“None of the indivuals involved with Operating System U have approached Arch or MATE, nor contributed to either project, as far as I can tell. I’d also like to highlight that we (the MATE team) have not completed adding support for GTK3 to MATE, although that is a roadmap item due for completion in MATE 1.10 and a precursor to adding Wayland support.

“I can only imagine that the Operating System U team are about to submit some massive pull-requests to the MATE project what with the ‘CEO’ proclaiming to be such an Open Source enthusiast. If Operating System U are to be taken seriously I’d like to see some proper community engagement first.”

Proper community engagement — what a concept!

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Start spreadin’ the news

June 7, 2014 2 comments

I want to be a part of this, New York, New York.

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos recently introduced the Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA) that, if passed by the City Council, would require the City to look first to open source software before purchasing proprietary software.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and chairs the Council’s government operations committee, also introduced the Civic Commons Act, embracing the notion that government should be sharing technology resources by setting up a portal for agencies and other government entities to collaboratively purchase software.

“Free and open-source software is something that has been used in private sector and in fact by most people in their homes for more than a decade now, if not a generation,” Kallos said in an article on the political Web site Gotham Gazette. “It is time for government to modernize and start appreciating the same cost savings as everyone else.”

If FOSS can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere.

The Web site nextcity.org outlines some of the legislation that’s currently on the New York City Council radar, with some insights from Kallos as well.

Like, “Our government belongs to the people and so should its software.”

European cities like Munich and Barcelona have already shown the benefits of using FOSS in municipal governments. While he was mayor of San Francisco, California’s Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom also got the ball rolling for FOSS in the City by the Bay. There are numerous other examples of how the free/open source paradigm has provided a shift — hugely for the better — in the societies it touches.

These two bills — FOSSA and the Civic Commons Act — hold huge promise not only in the wide range of benefits that FOSS will provide the local government, but it will also show how important to society, generally speaking, FOSS is to the wider world.

Their adoption and implementation in New York — perhaps the world’s greatest city — would signal a quantum leap for those who advocate for the free/open source philosophy and strive for its implementation to create a better world.

So thank you, Councilman Ben Kallos, for going to bat for Free/Open Source Software, and you have my support from 2,967 miles away. Consider done anything I can do from such a distance, if anything.

It’s up to you, New York, New York.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Horning in on a pair of laptops

June 5, 2014 6 comments

This is a tale of two laptops, the two that often accompany me — individually or occasionally together — when I leave the house.

I like them both. But now I sit on the horns of a dilemma because I don’t know which should be my Number One.

One is a behemoth: The Toshiba Satellite L455 is nearly big enough for me to live in, should I become homeless. It’s got a nice screen, 4GB of RAM, and a lot of other things going for it. Despite its anchor-heavy weight, it is a spotless machine, and over the past several weeks it has served as my daily road warrior.

The other has been at my side for as long as I’ve ever owned hardware: An IBM ThinkPad T60. This laptop has only 2GB of RAM — only, he says — in the standard-issue workhorse in years past of the Linux set. The years and conferences have left its mark on this one, with stickers on the cover that would put any NASCAR racer to shame. The wireless card in this machine deserves special remark — I can pick up wifi from rural Canada with this ThinkPad (OK, a slight exaggeration), and the square screen allows a larger workspace than the Satellite.

The Satellite weighs about a ton and a half and I schlep it around with a Targus backpack. The ThinkPad is a lot lighter and goes in a Dell laptop bag ($2.50 at the Abbot’s Thrift Store on half-price day).

The Satellite has a slightly larger hard drive — not the original equipment, since I saved this laptop from recycling doom when my former employer was about to throw it out, sans hard drive and memory (“Hey, do you have any use for this laptop?” “Um, yeah.”). The ThinkPad, though with a smaller drive and less memory, never fails to get the work done that I expect from it.

Therein lies probably the tipping point: I can depend on the ThinkPad to handle everything, where the Toshiba, with its bigger drive and more memory sometimes falls short of expectations. Not wanting to get into the “inside baseball” of distro nuances on particular hardware, generally speaking the Toshiba has sometimes found ways to be — how can I put this tactfully? — uncooperative with some distros.

So I’m thinking about going back to the ThinkPad as the primary outside-the-home hardware, and I wanted to see what others thought either way, pro or con, left or right, good or bad.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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A walk on the wild side

June 1, 2014 2 comments

As some of you already know, recently my good friend and Felton LUG co-founder Bob Lewis graced me with an old Sony Vaio laptop of circa 2004 vintage. As I wrote in another blog, getting it to run Linux did not go smoothly.

In fact, the laptop has rightfully earned its current nickname: The Vaio of Doom.

[An aside: Apparently this machine sat in its box on a shelf somewhere possibly for the duration of its life, because when I unboxed it, it was good as new, with Windows disks and warranty paperwork. My first reaction was to contact Ken Starks at Reglue to see if this was a machine he could use. He responded fairly promptly: "No!" And after last week's trials and tribulations, I can see why.]

So I got three Linux distros — Korora 20 Xfce, CrunchBang Waldorf and AntiX Luddite — to work well enough to make this a useable laptop.

But did I stop there? Perish the thought.

One of the benefits of living so close to a state park full of redwoods is that walks through the forest allow me to think about things; some thoughts are profound, and some aren’t. I’ll let you decide where this one falls on that spectrum: “Hmmm, I wonder if the Vaio of Doom would fare any better with BSD . . . .”

As I may have mentioned in past blogs, FreeBSD founder and current iXsystems CTO Jordan Hubbard lives just down the street from me. It should be noted that I live on Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains and that my “street” runs from Santa Cruz to Saratoga, and Jordan is just up the road about six miles in Boulder Creek. So it’s not like I can just go up the street to his house and borrow a cup of sugar. However, a few years ago I met his wife, who is the accountant for a commercial neighbor. She came into the shop drawn by the Linux signs and said she was glad to see Tux in the window. “Do you know Jordan Hubbard?” she asked. (“Not personally”) “He’s my husband . . . goodness, you fell out of your chair. Are you all right?”

But I digress.

A short trip to Distrowatch.com to see what’s shaking on the BSD front (and, of course, find the link to download the iso files), and I ended up with the top BSD distro on the list: FreeBSD.

Because one of the more, um, charming facets of the Vaio of Doom is that I can’t boot from a USB stick, so DVD burning was the order of the day. So on another machine, I burned a FreeBSD DVD, stuck it in the VoD and off we went.

Install. Reboot. And . . . command line prompt. Hmmm. Let’s try startx. Nope.

The takeaway from this attempt is this: The most endearing facet of FreeBSD is its documentation. That’s not a snarky put-down — the documentation was easily navigated and the process to put a desktop on it and add software was unequivocally clear; perhaps the best documentation I’ve seen ever. Ever. But it was a lot of work, but clearly an education on several levels, for one afternoon. I was told by a few astute folks that FreeBSD is not the most ideal BSD to run on a laptop. A server? Yeah. But a laptop? Not quite.

Try PC-BSD, they said.

Back to Distrowatch. Download iso, burn DVD, insert DVD, reboot. Wait. Install.

Much better. PC-BSD provided me with what I needed to just reboot and be on my way — the KDE desktop along with a lot of extra software like VLC so I could do “The West Wing” test (pop in a DVD of the Aaron Sorkin classic and see how the computer handles it). The Vaio of Doom passed that test with flying colors, and I got to watch “The Stackhouse Filibuster” (Season 2, Episode 17, I think) without interruption. I’ll probably spend part of today doing things like changing the wallpaper and adding software, since the software manager is a bit of a mystery.

Having spent a few days with BSD, I have to say that it is a lot friendlier than I expected — I don’t know if it is just a lack of experience or just believing various horror stories, all untrue, about Unix. It’s not the wild and crazy jungle I had thought it was. The Vaio of Doom and PC-BSD seem to be as good a fit as the other three Linux distros mentioned earlier.

We’ll continue to experiment on this machine until we find the ultimate distro to work on it. Meanwhile, LibreOffice needs to be installed.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Categories: FreeBSD, linux, Linux, PC-BSD Tags: , , , ,

But wait . . .

May 26, 2014 3 comments

To be honest, I’m not really obsessed with this topic; at least I’m not paying as much attention to Ubuntu/Canonical’s replacing Jono Bacon as people think I am. But a wide variety of people — from those who consider me detestable scum (single file, folks, one at a time) to those who either are, or think they are, giving me inside information — have not been shy about sharing what they know or what they suspect.

You might think that I would say, “Stop,” but it’s all somewhat interesting, in the same way watching two hockey players converging on a puck near the board is interesting. Interesting, but not terribly important.

But one thing that popped up on the radar late last night/early this morning is that Jono Bacon could be “irreplaceable” in Canonical’s eyes. That is, the scenario presented is that Jono’s position would not be filled, and the “community leader” would be a committee with the newly minted Ubuntu Community Liaison position (previously referred to as the “monkey boy” position) being the go-between between the Inner Party at Canonical and the Outer Party of what’s left of the community.

Draw your own conclusions about how this particular scenario translates to Ubuntu’s commitment to community.

But it’s an interesting scenario, to be sure: Certainly better than the one where Mark Shuttleworth takes over as Community Leader as a cost-cutting move (don’t laugh, that was sent to me as a scenario).

One more thing. To those who laughably think they’re getting a dig in by asking me why I’m not focusing on who’s replacing Robyn Bergeron as the Fedora Project Leader, here’s why I’m not really too concerned about that.

If I were a betting man, my money would be on Tom Callaway to be the next Fedora Project Leader. He is a natural choice, and he’ll be a fantastic choice to lead Fedora, a distro that on every level, in every facet of development and community, does things right.

Remember where you heard it first.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Will Canonical name a new Pope?

May 25, 2014 9 comments

Bryan Lunduke, who can best be described as one of Linux/FOSS’s top raconteurs (though others have described him to me otherwise, unfairly I would say), wrote what can be described as a moving tribute to Jono Bacon wrapped in his look back — and forward — for Ubuntu.

The problem with a glowing tribute wrapped in this kind of subjective analysis, without challenge, is that it likely becomes history when all facts aren’t represented. The most poignant example of why other voices and expanding on facts is necessary: When a story broke a couple of years ago that the computers at CERN run Linux, that overwhelming story somehow became the computers at CERN run Ubuntu, and years from now people could look back and make this fact rather than fiction.

So let’s set the record straight on that one: At CERN, the heavy metal that runs the important stuff runs on Scientific Linux. Higgs Boson was discvered in large part thanks to Scientific Linux, and Ubuntu is not within several light-years of being a factor. And that, friends, is what history should reflect, not the results of a bunch of “gee-whiz” posts saying Ubuntu discovered Higgs Boson.

So it stands to reason that Bryan’s assessment will carry a lot of weight over time, but I’d like to add a footnote or two going forward.

When he writes that “Ubuntu has, over the last several years, captured significant market share, especially in the consumer-oriented Linux space. I would posit that a big reason for that is Jono,” Lunduke hits the bulls-eye. If he does nothing else for the rest of his life, Jono’s accomplishments at Ubuntu would be a huge legacy which many, including me, find awe-inspiring and unequivocally admirable.

However — and you knew that was coming — there’s this, almost in the same proverbial breath: “. . . Mark Shuttleworth (who has acted as a sort of elder statesman for the project, aka “Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life”) and Jono Bacon (who has, in many ways, played the role of the mascot).”

Nope. It should be, ” . . . Mark Shuttleworth (who has acted as a sort of arsonist) and Jono Bacon (who has, in every way, played the role of the fireman).”

Bryan, Shuttleworth a “statesman”? If the synonym for “statesman” is “douchebag,” then again you’re right on target.

Sadly, Bryan has his Wile E. Coyote moment in this piece comes when he compares what I guess is Jono Bacon’s visibility to the leaders of the Fedora Project when he asks, “When you think of, say, Fedora, who do you think of?”

Well, Bryan, I think of Greg DeKoenigsberg, the Fedora Project Leader who got the ball rolling around Fedora Core 5 — as it was called back then — and who is now providing the same outstanding leadership at Eucalyptus. I also think of Max Spevack, who took FOSS leadership to a new level before ending up at Amazon. I think of the steady guidance and innovative changes under the leadership of Paul Frields and Jared Smith, and the cool-headed organizational skills and problem-solving abilities that Robyn Bergeron — the first woman to lead a distro — provided in some of the rough waters she faced during her tenure.

So “when I think of, say, Fedora,” Bryan — or “when I think of, say, Debian or OpenSUSE” — I think of people who get the job done and leave their distro, and the wider FOSS landscape, a better place without monopolizing the limelight or pilfering undue credit. No star value among their ranks, to be sure. Just accomplishments. Arguably, Jono did more for Ubuntu than “be a star,” but when you invite this kind of comparison, Bryan, that’s what you end up with.

Arguably it would appear that Bryan’s point here is that while Fedora, OpenSUSE, Debian and other distros have been doing the heavy lifting for Linux and FOSS, Jono and Ubuntu have been basking in the warm glow of the spotlight.

I would agree with that 100 percent.

Nevertheless, the understudy now becomes the focus: The decision to replace Jono will be a remarkably important one for Canonical to keep whatever momentum they have, despite Shuttleworth’s hubris-based attempts to derail it.

No one with two brain cells to rub together thought for a split second that I’d be replacing Jono Bacon. Apparently, some of you completely missed the satire here. Of course, if they had completely lost it in the upper echelons of Canonical (well, they may have already, but speaking solely on the issue of replacing Jono Bacon) and decided to hire me, it would be my duty to turn them down, and I would. I also would have turned them down if they offered me the applied-for Canonical position of monkey boy to the Community Leader, however for the record Canonical beat me to it, wiping the last tears of laughter from their eyes before writing the standard rejection note, no doubt.

So who should replace Jono?

My choice, and I hope it’s not el beso de la muerte (that’s the kiss of death, to those who don’t speak Spanish) for me to say it, is California LoCo leader Nathan Haines, who I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post. Again, I have known Nathan for years and he has been an eloquent advocate and steady leader in the California LoCo for quite some time. There are few in FOSS for which I have as much respect as I do for Nathan, and his leadership skills are top-notch. If Canonical misses the chance to hire Nathan as their Community Leader, they should at least — at the ultimate very least — make him the Community Leader’s monkey boy.

But after thinking about it for awhile, my guess is that Jono’s successor will be Alan Pope, Canonical’s engineering manager, podcaster and all-around good guy. He may not be able to play electric guitar as well as Jono Bacon, but he has the right stuff — for example, a likeable demeanor and a knack for diplomacy for starters, and the same ability to perform the same foot-from-mouth extraction that Jono always performed on Shuttleworth. He would be a good fit for Ubuntu.

So the question becomes this: Are we going to see white smoke from the chimneys at Canonical if they elect Pope?

But wait, there’s more . . . .

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Happy Birthday, Bassel

May 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Today marks 799 days that Bassel (Safadi) Khartabil has been detained by the Syrian government. It is also his 33rd birthday today, and as this EFF article — one of many good ones floating around today — aptly points out, “Bassel has not been able to write code, or tweet, or hug his family, or do any of the other things that he should have been doing over the past few years.”

A recap: On March 15, 2012, Bassel was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus, Syria. As I wrote back some time ago, Bassel is the project leader for an open source web software called Aiki Framework. He is well known in online technical communities as a dedicated volunteer to Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library, Fabricatorz, and Sharism.

The EFF link above can guide you to some valuable resources in finding out more and/or particpating in helping to make the wider public aware and to ultimately work to free Bassel.

Bassel has contributed much to the FOSS paradigm, and we look forward to the day when he can continue.

He’s one of us.

Let’s get Bassel back home to his loved ones, so he can resume his life and, once he’s ready, let’s get him coding again.

[P.S. -- An afterthought, because I'm not tooting my own horn, surprisingly: A while ago -- maybe a year -- there was a move to have people fast on behalf of Bassel's plight. The link is no longer active, but I still fast on Fridays.]

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his home office as a consultant providing FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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