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Nuclear option, or GNU-clear option?

March 19, 2007 Leave a comment

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Koc of polishlinux.org has written an article, translated from Polish to English, about Microsoft “going nuclear” on the Free/Libre Open Source Software movement. His article in translation, which I think is a good read, is here. My reply, which appears here verbatim, is below. As I outline in my reply, I believe we should exercise a GNU-clear option instead, informing the masses about free software and its benefits to computer users in particular and to society in general and I’d be willing to discuss this further, both here and in articles at Open Source Reporter.

[This reply also appears in Larry Cafiero's blog, Larry the Open Source Guy. I attempted to post earlier, but my reply locked in my browser and I had to rewrite it.]

Thank you, Daniel, for providing a very interesting and enlightening perspective on what the FLOSS movement is up against. While I agree with what you have written, I would like to touch on a couple of points you make.

The possibility of Microsoft playing “the nuclear card” in trying to quash FLOSS, although an option of which we should remain aware, is extremely remote. Just as in a real-life nuclear scenario, both sides would perish if Microsoft tried this. As greedy and controlling (and possibly malicious) the Gateses and Ballmers of the world might be, they are intelligent enough to realize that if they used this option, their own destruction would follow.

So Microsoft may present a facade of maniac behavior with a real or imagined “nuclear threat,” but we know better. These “street racers,” as you call them, will indeed turn the steering wheel at the last moment because their own vast riches and profits will evaporate if they don’t.

They know that. And because we also know that, too, we can free ourselves from the submission that this sort of threat tries to impose on both us — those of us working to bring FLOSS to the masses — and the computing public in general.

Rather than the “nuclear threat,” Microsoft is taking a page from the U.S. foreign policy playbook. How? History shows that between 1945 to the fall of communism in the former USSR, the U.S. used a policy of “containment” against the USSR, stopping the spread of communism through covert operations or brute force in other countries (a policy that, as a U.S. citizen who has lived through most of it, is completely shameful; but I digress). Substitute “Microsoft” for “U.S.” and “FLOSS” for “communism” in the preceding sentence and you have the same situation today when it comes to where we, as a digital society, stand.

So while we should be aware of larger “weaponry” in Microsoft’s arsenal, focusing on the constant stream of FUD flowing from Redmond could be of more immediate importance; this FUD campaign primarily consists of the myth that FLOSS is on the margins and cannot be mainstream. We know better, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure everyone knows the truth. Coupling the fact that the FLOSS movement is making gains at a time when public distrust of Microsoft continues to rise, we have an opportunity to provide another option.

Promote and exercise the “GNU-clear option,” instead of the “nuclear option.”

The GNU-clear option is not a proposal to “reinvent the wheel” — the blueprint and philosophy that guides the FLOSS movement is well established and continues to provide a firm foundation on which to build the movement. Among other things, the GNU-clear option offers the choice that the myths about FLOSS can be busted and it truly can transform both the personal computing experience and society as a whole, despite lies to the contrary pumped out of corporate headquarters around the world and printed/broadcasted by a spoon-fed corporate media.

Let me give you an example: When was the last time you spoke to anyone — anyone who was not a computer person, that is; just a friend, relative or even a good-looking guy (or gal) at the bar or pub — about FLOSS? Today, I hope, but if not, make a point to do so. My conversion to FLOSS came as a result of a simple conversation with a supporter during my campaign as Green Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner in California last year — a conversation that lasted only a few minutes (including the exchanges of e-mails), but it clearly made a huge impression. I can’t code to save my life, but as a journalist I can publish a magazine (which premieres in July) and maintain a Web site to promote FLOSS principles to those non-geeks wishing to learn more.

That is my contribution. And we all have contributions to make — none of which are too small or insignificant — in bringing FLOSS to the mainstream and fighting the corporate paranoia and maniac behavior that gestates in their boardrooms and executive offices.

Ultimately, a corporate strategy based on fear and manipulation of the public will fail, allowing us to prevail.

Thank you for this article, Daniel.

Sincerely,
Larry Cafiero
Editor/Publisher
Open Source Reporter

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

GNU/Linux and BSD: What a zoo!

February 27, 2007 Leave a comment

I realize that this may be old hat — a fedora of any color — to long-time GNU/Linux users, so please indulge me on this discourse into the animal kingdom.

One of the joys of having my daughter look over my shoulder while dealing with the GNU/Linux learning curve — despite learning a very colorful and spicy vocabulary (okay, that’s a joke: She gets enough of that when I bring her to the newspaper) — is that she’s enamored by the wide variety of characters that symbolize GNU/Linux (and GNU/Solaris) operating systems, to say nothing of those other-worldly (netherworldly?), but unbearably cute, BSD mascots.

Granted, I’ve weighed in on my animal of use — the beast of burden on my Macs — in earlier blog postings, but as Mirano points out, there sure are a lot of animals out there (“. . . and why no chickens?” since she’s partial to chickens). But this observation, courtesy of a 9-year-old who puts together her own Web site with a classmate, started me thinking: Dang, the ethereal world of free software/open source software is full of animals — and we’re only talking about the mascots here.

There are the standards
GNU and Tux, the former for GNU’s Not Unix, and the latter being the ubiquitous, happy penguin Tux, symbolize GNU/Linux, although in the public mindset, these two animals should be thought of together rather than separately. But there has been an effort, especially around those in the free software movement, to rightfully link the two together, so we have GNU and Tux becoming superheroes battling the multinational corporate software hegemony, as shown below.

As you know, nearly all the wide varieties of GNU/Linux distros have some variation on the theme, but mostly they have Tux as their mascot, without the GNU (pronounced “guh-new”) gnu (pronounced “new”). While we find that unfortunate and hope that developers will rightfully put the two together in their own mindset, and that of the public, we all have our favorites. I can’t get all of them into this blog, but if you comment on which ones I missed, I could give them a fair shake in a later posting.

Who let the dogs out?
Not all GNU/Linux distro mascots graze on the African plains or waddle and eat herring: Speaking of standard-bearers, one of the Linux-for-Macintosh pioneers was Yellow Dog Linux, which has long since expanded not only all the latest Mac hardware, but they’ve blazed a trail into the realm of operating systems for Sony’s PS3 — that’s a good dog, Potter! Despite the fact that I have several distros lined up and waiting to audition to be my GNU/Linux flavor of choice, I currently have Yellow Dog 3.0 on the Old World Macs that I use on a daily basis. Speaking of real dogs, Norway’s http://wolvix.org/”>Wolfix keeps the canine motif going, with their symbol being a little more direct: a wolf’s footprint.

Reptilian GNU/Linux
All jokes about Novell executives being legless reptiles for entering into an agreement with the evil empire of Redmond notwithstanding, SuSE has been represented by the noble reptilian iguana for years. It comes in a couple of flavors, Novell and their Enterprise Linux and the German-based OpenSUSE.

Go Dolphins!
Having grown up in Miami, I know a lot about Dolphins, even the ones that swim in the ocean. So it comes as no surprise that GNU/Linux mascots aren’t limited to land animals. In fact two distros distros — Zenwalk and OpenTLE — take to the seas with their mascots. Zenwalk is a French distro that asks the eternal question: Have you ever tried Zen computing? (although we would have asked, “What is the sound of one app clapping?”), and OpenTLE is a Thai distro for Thai users (and if you visit their sites, make sure you have your Thai fonts, because despite clicking on their British flag link, apparently they’re not ready for English-language visitors yet).

Back on the savannah . . .
With its mascot coming from the African grasslands, Nexenta, an American distro, brings an interesting twist to the GNU family: GNU/Solaris running on a Sun kernel. According to its Web site, “NexentaOS is a complete GNU-based open source operating system built on top of the OpenSolaris kernel and runtime . . . . NexentaOS is completely open source and free of any charge. It contains Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP, Firefox, Evolution, software update manager, Synaptic package manager, Gaim Instant Messenger, abiword, administration & development utilities, editors, graphics, GNOME, interpreters, libraries and many others. All of this is running on the state-of-the-art SunOS kernel.” Naturally they get such a long listing here thanks to the length of the giraffe’s neck.

The devil made me do it
Continuing on the mascots-from-hot-places theme, FreeBSD is (as they say on their Web site) “an advanced operating system . . . derived from BSD, the version of UNIX developed at the University of California, Berkeley” (which begs the question: Why didn’t developers adopt the bear, since UCB are the Golden Bears?). BSD distros tend to be devil-themed (like PC-BSD, although you have to go seaside for the OpenBSD’s blowfish), which may or may not lend itself to the suggestion that the devil is in the details, or that they’re hell to work with (and I’m on the side that says they’re not, so keep those cards and letters).

Lower life forms
Being lower on the food chain does not reflect the quality of http://www.dragonflybsd.org/”>DragonFly BSD, an operating system and environment originally based on FreeBSD. Going even further down on the food chain — down to plants — a stylized tree represents gNewSense, one of our favorite distros due to its commitment to free software, and Slax has its four-leaf clover (that I’ve overlooked before, but not now) as a symbol.

Once again, I know I’m missing some of your favorite distros and their mascots — and if so, please comment below and I’ll make sure I get it mentioned in another posting.

[FSF Associate Member]

Richard Stallman at Berkeley

February 26, 2007 Leave a comment

Richard Stallman and others in the free software movement may not like my choice of words to describe his speech on Friday, Feb. 23. But to quote a large software conglomerate way north of here: Wow.

Tod Landis, the Technical Editor of Open Source Reporter, and I drove up to Berkeley from Santa Cruz to see Stallman speak (but not before picking up mutual friend, uber-geek and Web host operator without peer Cameron Spitzer on the way in San Jose), and Stallman did not disappoint. In fact, he was engaging, funny, passionate and thought-provoking during the course of the two hours in which he spoke.

More importantly, Stallman was convincing about the need to promote the free software philosophy and further the free software movement. Specifically, he touted the need for people to get involved not only with the Free Software Foundation, but also with some of the FSF’s projects, primarily their efforts around stopping DRMs and Bad Vista (both of which can be found on the FSF site).

Also, he explained how GNU was really a significant part of the operating system everyone calls “Linux,” and that because Linux is only the kernel and all the other aspects of the operating system were from GNU. Hence, it should rightfully called GNU/Linux instead of just “Linux.”

So noted, Professor Stallman: We at Open Source Reporter have made a note of it, and will refer to all operating systems as such in the future.

He also revealed what he uses on his computers (Blag), and stated that there were only three distros that provided fully free software: Blag, gNewSense and a third one that I didn’t get (Ulteo, maybe?).

As one of the crowd’s non-geeks (or as a geek apprentice, perhaps), my observation is that Stallman comes across as a very eloquent and very engaging in presenting his views to the audience. I understand his passion and urgency in promoting things like abolishing DRMs and calling Vis-duh and Microsoft on their individual and collective shortcomings. He effectively and convincingly lays out the reasons why free software and open source software are different, and how open source could stand to be more like free software.

Stallman’s “Saint Ignutius” schtick was very entertaining, and in ordaining the crowd into the Church of Emacs, he warned that as adherents we should “beware of Vi, Vi, Vi — the mark of the beast” (get out your geek-to-English dictionaries: Vi is another editor, and VI of course is the Roman numeral for six; hence six-six-six, ba-da-boom!).

The talk was attended by between 75-100 people, mostly Cal students with a few of us older folks in the audience.

I understand that the audio for this speech is supposed to be available on the Free Software Foundation’s Web site (http://www.fsf.org), but I haven’t found it yet. It would be good to give it a listen, because it touches firmly on the need for free software, and how we should go about promoting it.

I came away from this speech with a better understanding of free software, converted to the free software movement, and with a couple of items of worth — a FSF lapel pin and a Richard Stallman autograph on my FSF card.

[FSF Associate Member]

El Momento de Verdad

January 31, 2007 Leave a comment

Most of the pages are finished and ready to be uploaded, and most of the editing is behind me. So having never missed a deadline in my life (not on my own, anyway), OpenSource Reporter goes “on the air” — or the on-line equivalent — right on time for its Feb. 1, 2007 schedule date tomorrow.

So as I systematically and periodically upload pages today (Wednesday, Jan. 31), tonight and early tomorrow morning, I should let you know a little bit about this publication.

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis (those of you outside my family, that is), you know that OSR is a publication — both electronic- and paper-based — dedicated to promoting the tenets mentioned above in the description of this blog (for a more detailed version of why I’m doing this, go to my first blog installment), and generally to bring free software/open source software to people that deserve fresh alternatives in their daily computing experiences — alternatives that don’t require the imprimatur of the software mandarins in Redmond or Cupertino.

At this point, it’s only fitting to recognize the people who are instrumental in getting this project off the ground.

First, raise a glass to toast my OSR colleague Tod Landis, whose vast technical knowledge is OSR’s “yin” to the “yang” of my journalistic experience. I may put the words on the page, but Tod’s expertise, knowledge and insight are really the spark plug that powers the engine of this publication.

Then, if we can face toward San Jose, Calif., we bow thankfully to Cameron Spitzer, who keeps progressives, lefties and even Luddites on the net, and is arguably the Silicon Valley’s uber-geek without peer. Cameron planted the seeds of OSR through discussions about free software/open source software with me and, as the Green Internet Society’s guru, he hosts OSR on GIS’s server.

Gratitude also goes to my wife Kyoko for the world class, Olympic-caliber depth of patience she has shown to my new-found evangelical zeal, and to my daughter Mirano who, at 9, watches intently over Dad’s shoulder, asks the eternal “why . . ?” and shows a propensity for grasping software (starting with Earthlink’s Trellix to make her own web page) that far outshines her Dad.

Organizations which have paved the way for OSR (not a complete list, obviously) include The Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation — all groups which you should go out and join and/or contribute to right now. A tip of the hat also goes to the Silicon Valley Linux Users Group, which fields an inordinate number of questions from this Linux newbie from “across the hill.”

Now, if I only had a bottle of champagne to break over . . . um . . . this PowerMac 9500 that’s sitting next to the coffee table waiting for its Linux install, perhaps that would make it official.

Old machines, new OS and an appearance by Colonel Panic

January 17, 2007 Leave a comment

A fact of life is that older Macs never die. Apple may systematically forsake them, as their quest to add to the upward spiral of their corporate coffers seems boundless, but the hardware still works well 10 to 15 years (or longer) down the line. I should know: My home lineup includes an eMac (commandeered by my wife), a G3 mintower with a G4 Sonnet upgrade maxed out memory-wise (mine, mine, mine!), a PowerBook G3 Wallstreet and a Newton — yes, a Newton (Jobs’ only error is 86ing this project) — are still in constant use.

In storage (translation: lying around the house somewhere) are PowerBooks of the 1400, 5300, 160, 120 variety. All these machines power up and still work, even though the three-digit PBs may be obsolete for anything other than word processing.

The point here, before I get into the following tale of “whoa” not woe, is that open source developers have a gold mine waiting for them with older Mac machines; hardware which keeps on keepin’ on but which has been abandoned by their maker. Ubuntu needs to pay special attention to this, because the rumor that they’re abandoning the PowerPC version would be a pretty big mistake.

Talking the talk, I decided to walk the walk by installing Linux on the 1400.

This once oft-used PowerBook 1400c — a machine that served me quite well in the past — was liberated from its box beside a bookcase at home, dusted off and fired up. The PRAM battery is dead, but with its full allotment of memory (64MB) and OS9 still percolating under the keyboard, it works very well.

After determining that whatever was left on it — software- and document-wise — could be sacrificed, I set out to see what was available for NuBus PowerMacs and came up with, voila, a page called “Welcome to the World of Linux 2.4 for NuBus Power Macs”.

So here’s the drill: Download on eMac. Burn CD. Turn on 1400. Boot from OS9 CD. Format hard drive (standard, not HFS+). Restart. Play finger Twister once again to hold down the required keys to boot from CD (command-control-shift-delete — the 1400 is quirky that way, as other models require that you just hold down the “c” key) and . . . .

. . . a penguin! Success! A penguin welcomes me to GNU/Linux while a variety of type sprints up the screen. A few more screens of type sprint up my screen until the final lines say, and I quote directly, “Kernel panic: No init found. Try passing init= option to kernel. Rebooting in 180 seconds . .”

Good thing that the Silicon Valley Linux Users Group is holding its Installfest this Saturday (or at least I hope they are — they hold them on the third Saturday of each month at the Google offices in Mountain View). While I’m there, I’ll also bring the PowerBook G3 and the Ubuntu disk, throw myself at the mercy of someone who knows Linux better than I do, and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, it’s back to trying to make the 1400 work. If I can get this penguin to do more than smile back at me while embracing the Mac on the screen . . .

Categories: free software, open source

In the beginning, there was the command line . . . .

January 16, 2007 2 comments

. . . or do I overstate things?

After I extend my sincerest apologies to science fiction author Neal Stephenson who wrote the essay of the same name — my deepest apologies, Neal — I’ll offer a brief introduction: My name is Larry Cafiero, also known as “Larry the OpenSource Guy” or just plain Larry (unless you’re my mother, who with the government are the only people who call me “Lawrence”), and if you look to the right, you’ll see a Reader’s Digest version of who I am.

How did I become the open source and free software evangelist whose words you now read? It was somewhat simple, although at this point it might behoove you to get a cup of coffee before reading this. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

As you can see at your right, I was the Green Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner in California in last year’s elections. In an e-mail exchange with Cameron Spitzer (an Internet guru for progressives in the Silicon Valley and the point man for the Green Internet Society) I lamented that I couldn’t afford to compete with the major party candidates in producing quality materials.

Cameron’s reply, and I’m paraphrasing here, went something along the lines of, “yes you can,” and explained the virtues of open source and free software.

Bingo: OpenOffice replaces a woefully outdated Word. Gimp replaces an all-too-early version of Photoshop. Scribus replaces a 20th Century edition of Quark.

Cameron’s advice became a revelation wrapped in an epiphany surrounded by a satori.

During the course of the campaign — especially during those long drives throughout California wishing the state was more the size of Rhode Island — thoughts kept surfacing about how society would benefit by the practice of using open source and free software. On a philosophical level, the open source and free software paradigm lends itself to building a society where people practiced teamwork, rather than competition, in developing the software and contributing to its working properly. On a political level, one has to advocate for any system that would provide the planet’s populace — especially those less fortunate than those who live in industrialized nations — an alternative to the software shackles foisted upon the world by the mandarins in Redmond (Vista: Need I say more?) and, to a degree, those in Cupertino. Even on the most basic, practical level, reasonable people understand the basic human right to choose whatever software they wish to use on their computer, without the interference of national or multinational corporations, while being able to use, configure and understand this software in its use on a daily basis.

After the campaign, I spoke to some open source developers about this subject, and thus happened upon my mission: To boldly go and spread the gospels of open source and free software, with a missionary goal of converting the average computer user to exercise his or her freedom to choose software that benefits the general populace — as opposed to filling corporate coffers — and to provide a vehicle to make open source and free software more comprehensible to the common computer user.

A major component of this evangelical zeal comes in the form of OpenSource Reporter, which officially goes on-line February 1 (with some features appearing on-line earlier), and its bimonthly print version counterpart with a first copies slated for May/June 2007 (watch your local news stand).

I’m not a “tech” by anyone’s definition, and I’m at peace with that. I’m a journalist by profession. So you may encounter both in OSR, and in this blog, items that the most seasoned programmer or developer may find to be “pre-Programming 101″ or earlier. I make no apologies for this: OSR and this blog serve to inform and instruct those who are not programmers or developers; the mere mortals who use the software bestowed by those with a higher understanding of the binary world of 1’s and 0’s than we have.

I’m willing to bet you’re reading this — those of you who aren’t related to me, that is — because you’re a computer user who does more than merely use software and may (or may not) be a “power user,” or you are looking for alternatives to the software on the shelves. If you’re a developer or programmer, I’m willing to bet that you’re here because you’re smart enough to realize that the key to getting your software used by a wide range of users is to run it past those of us who are the digital equivalent of “backyard mechanics” — those who aren’t afraid to delve into their hardware and software to change the oil and brake pads and do maintenance most people pay others to do.

To all of you who have gotten this far, welcome (and thanks for not nodding off). By all means, let’s move forward in this endeavor together.

Now, does anyone out there have Ubuntu running on their Mac (and if so, how did you do it)?

Categories: free software, open source
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