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Microsoft takes on the free world . . . and loses

May 14, 2007 3 comments

Direct from the “give me a freakin’ break” department . . .

Fortune magazine — a publication that I don’t usually read — wrote that (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe.” (the CNN story about it is here)

On the face of it, that’s merely laughable. What makes this a world class, wet-your-pants screaming laugher is that Microsoft has the unmitigated audacity to actually imply, as outlined in the third paragraph of the CNN article, that “one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents.”

So let me see if I understand this: Free software is of such high quality because it violates Microsoft’s patents? Microsoft? The same Microsoft that historically and currently foists on an unsuspecting public a buggy and insecure operating system augmented by subpar programs? That Microsoft?

Sheesh.

But it gets better: Darth Ballmer took time from his pod on the Death Star to tell CNN that the FOSS advocates “have to play by the same rules as the rest of the business.” Watch out, Darth: Your hypocrisy is showing. That sounds like it comes directly from the “do as I say, not as I do” department.

This software saber-rattling may be coming from Redmond because they are out of viable options, so says Danijel Orsolic in a very interesting column he writes on the subject on Libervis.com.

The Free/Libre Open Source Software movement is not going anywhere, no matter how many lawyers Microsoft wants to hire.

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

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Florida: Still on the cutting edge of stupid

May 9, 2007 Leave a comment

Permit me a chance to stray from Free/Libre Open Source Software topics for a second to touch on something that came across the proverbial radar thanks to Slashdot.

Ken Fisher wrote an article in Ars Technica outlining that “there are a few things lawmakers have decided really ought to be handled with the ‘care and oversight’ that only the government can provide: e.g., tax collection, radioactive materials, biohazards, guns, and CD . . . Compact Discs.”

Yep, Compact Discs. You never know what dangers lurk on those shiny silver coasters.

It seems that “pawn shop” laws are springing up across the United States will, according to Fisher, “make selling your used CDs at the local record shop something akin to getting arrested. No, you won’t spend any time in jail, but you’ll certainly feel like a criminal once the local record shop makes copies of all of your identifying information and even collects your fingerprints.”

Fisher continues: “Such is the state of affairs in Florida, which now has the dubious distinction of being so anal about the sale of used music CDs that record shops there are starting to get out of the business of dealing with used content because they don’t want to pay a $10,000 bond for the ‘right’ to treat their customers like criminals.”

Now, Florida and I have a, um, “history” since I grew up there before escaping about 20 years ago to the left side of the United States, not to mention cutting my political teeth in the Florida Young Democrats (an old YD acquaintance is now the speaker of the Florida House, interestingly). All of which is to say that I know first hand the less-than-cutting-edge nature of legislation common to the Sunshine State (to say nothing of the volumes of data on the inability of the Secretary of State there to hold elections, but that’s another topic).

So why does legislation like this happen?

Simple: This kind of legislation kills aftermarket sales for CDs, so there is no recourse for those who buy CDs and later on want to, or must, part with them. This clearly has the RIAA’s fingerprints all over it: They may bet profit from the first sale, but they get zero profit from aftermarket sales. If they can’t get the profit from each and every sale, then they feel that nobody should.

So says one comment on Slashdot: “And the reason why we’re just going to bend over and take it is the same reason why we’re grabbing ankles for the DMCA: The politicians that make the laws were bought and paid for a long time ago and they aren’t available for purchase in the aftermarket.”

So the solution? Stop stupid legislation and vote stupid legislators out of office, even in Florida (if that’s possible).

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

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Categories: Uncategorized

Merci, Dr. Xhaard

May 8, 2007 Leave a comment

There’s a saying among surfers — especially the older ones — in my home area of Santa Cruz, California (I don’t actually live in Santa Cruz, I live in the mountains in Santa Cruz County, hence the fact that I don’t end every sentence with “. . . dude.”). The saying is simple: “Old Guys Rule.” In the surf-mad area of the Central California coast, it just means that the kids can have the latest equipment — short boards and the like — but it’s the “old guys” — the old style longboarders who tend to be a generation older than the kids (at least) — that are still “top dogs” on the gnarliest of Santa Cruz’s waves.

What, you’re asking, does this have to do with Free/Open Source Software? Well, duuuuude (er, sorry), the Inquirer’s Fernando Cassia wrote an article last week about Dr. Michel Xhaard, who single-handedly wrote 235 USB webcam drivers for GNU/Linux on his own.

You would imagine that one who sits down and writes 235 drivers of any kind, let alone USB webcams, would be a younger man taking time from the rigors of Half-Life in order to complete this herculean task. If the recent Novell survey is any indication, one would expect most developers would be young males (despite the fact this this isn’t necessarily true).

But that’s where Xhaard, a French physician, breaks the mold. At nearly 60, this driver guru throws out all preconceived notions that developers have to be young guys.

In other words, “Old Guys Rule!”

Merci and salut, Dr. Xhaard and I lift a glass of Chardonnay to toast your achievement.

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

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Hackers: Good – Crackers: Bad

March 25, 2007 Leave a comment

It’s interesting how those urban stories become urban legends (no, Bill Gates is not going to give you his fortune if you pass on that e-mail — sheesh) and how myths become become truths when repeated often enough.

Last week, the paper at which I work had a headline on a story that said that the U.S. had the most hackers in the world. Under my definition of hacker this would be welcome news, but the article continued to implicate those who “hacked” as people who did illegal things via computers.

Those aren’t hackers. Most of you know who Eric Raymond is, but for those of you who don’t, the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” — arguably a defining book regarding open source software — has something to say about hackers; real hackers, that is.

Raymond says that hackers — “a community, a shared culture, of expert programmers and networking wizards that traces its history back through decades to the first time-sharing mini-computers and the earliest ARPAnet experiements” — originated the term as a positive one. Hackers built the Internet, Raymond continues, made Unix what it is today, run Usenet, and generally make the World Wide Web work.

He continues later to say, “There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren’t. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers . . . . Real hackers call these people ‘crackers’ and want nothing to do with them . . . .”

Raymond continues later: ” . . . [B]eing able to break security doesn’t make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer.”

Hackers build things, and crackers break them.

I think about this every time I look at the Free Software Foundation business-card disk that doubles as my membership card, especially at the signature by Richard Stallman (I asked him to autograph it, sheepishly, after the stellar speech he gave at the University of California last month) which says, “Happy hacking!” To be a hacker would be a badge of honor I’d gladly wear.

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

GNU/Linux meets the Dead

March 24, 2007 Leave a comment

Let’s talk avatars: I’ve never had one, only because my only experience with them have come at the hands of playing fantasy sports on Yahoo!, and because Yahoo! doesn’t have a balding, bearded 50-year-old avatar, I considered myself out of luck.

So after signing up to ask a question in the Ubuntu forums about why Xubuntu acts the way it does (and the question was answered quickly), I poked around in my profile to see what this avatar thing was all about. To my pleasant surprise, I found that I could make one within a various set of parameters and file types, and this allowed me to give GIMP a pretty good going-over.

Tux the DeadheadMerging two of my favorite things — GNU/Linux and the Grateful Dead — I made up the following avatar: Tux bearing the legendary Steal Your Face logo. I believe this avatar is in the area of 60-by-80 pixels and, if you like GNU/Linux and the Dead, feel free to use it. It was either that, or get the bears to wear Tux shirts, or have the dancing terrapins at Terrapin Station beating a tambourine with Tux on it. The possibilities of merging the two are boundless.

For my next trick, maybe using ImageMagick next time, we can have the Xubuntu symbol on Tux’s belly . . .

Nevertheless, again, it’s out there and it’s free to use. Credit me if you like, but it’s not mandatory.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry the Open Source Guy is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

News, [views] and blues

January 26, 2007 Leave a comment

News: A very interesting storm seems to be brewing on the GNU Public License front in the advent of GPL-3, according to CRN’s story here. Give it a good read — it may not affect software users directly, but it gives one a better understanding of the differences between free software and open source software camps, and the dynamic involved in moving free software and open source software forward.

[Me? Oh, I'm firmly behind Richard Stallman and FSF, but I'm willing to discuss it with those who disagree.]

Meanwhile, in other developments: Linux’s two most important support groups, the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group, said this week they’ll merge in February to form the Linux Foundation. It’s an acknowledgement that Linux can’t afford to divide its resources for funding, legal defense, and standards, since problems on any of those fronts could weaken the operating system’s advancement. “We will be a vendor-neutral organization capable of responding to competitors’ attacks and FUD,” says Jim Zemlin, executive director of the new foundation and former head of the Free Standards Group.

[Oh, indeed. Associate memberships range from $25 for individuals to rare-metal named memberships of $500,000.]

Blues: I’m this close to getting Linux running on my extraneous PowerBook G3 Wallstreet, but I keep getting a PEBKAC error (problem exists bewteen keyboard and chair, for those who aren’t IT guys and gals) which prevents me from joining the world of the open source OS ranks. While I get my dunce cap and make it over to the stool in the corner, I do want to thank Daniel at the Silicon Valley Linux User Group for his detailed instruction on Wednesday night that, hopefully, is still being adhered to (those parts of my notes that I can actually read) and will not go to waste.

Categories: Uncategorized

Walking the walk on a tightrope, with success

January 22, 2007 Leave a comment

It is a family tradition of sorts not to take the easy way out; a tradition I hope to outgrow as I get older, but so far to no avail. Why take the path of least resistance when the road less traveled is probably just that for a good reason?

Hence, while the Linux install on the PowerBook 1400 has gone as expected over the past several days (constant failure, although those who have achieved this elusive goal have mentioned that it would be a chore), I turned my sights on my top-of-the-Old-World list PowerBook G3 Wallstreet and a variety of Linux and Unix operating systems that might run on it — Debian and NetBSD being the finalists (although I am told that SuSE will run on Old World Macs — more on this another time, perhaps).

Fortunately for me, the Silicon Valley Linux User Group holds its installfest on the third Saturday of the month in one of the buildings on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. So with daughter Mirano in tow (my wife was under the weather), we made the trek “over the hill” on Saturday to see if they could help.

We were met at the door by Jason, who signed us in and guided us to the room where the installfest took place. The fact that he was working on a pair of Macs dispelled my fear that I’d be the only Mac user.

SVLUG president Paul Reiber, working on what he described as the group’s “Frakenstein” server, and Mark (whose last name I didn’t get — sorry, Mark) and I discussed options for my installation adventure. With the caveat that this model Mac is not the most Linux friendly, the two of them got me pointed in the right direction.

Left to my own devices with Linux folks nearby to ask questions possibly was the most comfortable environment to take the plunge from my Mac OS comfort zone to the new world of Linux with my Old World Mac. Mark occasionally stopped by to see how I was doing, and while I seemed to always on the brink of a breakthrough, I never got Debian going on Saturday. Time constraints (I had a real job to go to) — and a cranky 9-year-old who finds a group of computer people interesting only for so long — forced me to leave before I had successfully installed Debian.

In leaving, Paul mentioned that I would probably get everything going later, having taken a wealth of information from the meeting (which I did) and applying it at home. He was right: On Sunday, I tried some of the options I hadn’t done — or hadn’t occurred to me — and got Debian installed on the Wallstreet. Now to get it up and running . . . .

While extending a grateful “thanks” to those who helped me on Saturday, I would like to reiterate that getting involved with a user group is a great way to get started if you’re new to open source. While I don’t know how involved I can be from Santa Cruz, the folks at SVLUG have not seen the last of me.

Categories: Uncategorized
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