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Posts Tagged ‘FOSS’

Don’t be an idiot

August 31, 2011 10 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation is not one to mince words. In an article on the Network World website by Julie Bort, Zemlin says that while there is no longer a moral imperative to contribute to open source software — something I will take issue with later — he says the following: On the issue contributing back, “[It's] not the right thing to do because of some moral issue or because we say you should do it. It’s because you are an idiot if you don’t. You’re an idiot because the whole reason you’re using open source is to collectively share in development and collectively maintain the software. Let me tell you, maintaining your own version of Linux ain’t cheap, and it ain’t easy.”

Veiled or unveiled, this has been interpreted — as outlined later in the article — as a swipe at Canonical/Ubnutu and their much-documented lack of technical contributions back to the Linux kernel and FOSS. Incidentally, Zemlin also makes the point that he’s not calling out Canonical with this quote: “Just to be clear, Canonical staff, engineers, management are not idiots. They get open source well and as they grow, I think it will be in their business interests to give back,” Zemlin said.

We’re not going to go there today, either, except to say this: Canonical/Ubuntu has done an outstanding job in marketing Ubuntu, and there has never been an argument that they have done most for getting Linux in people’s hands.

While I agree with Zemlin on non-contributors being idiots, the issue I have with him is this quote on the “moral issue” of contributing back. He seems to think is no longer important, and in another quote he says: “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if anyone contributes back.” He may be talking about businesses here, but it’s unclear. For the sake of argument, let’s say he’s not talking about businesses — just in case — and that he doesn’t care if anyone contributes back.

That’s going to be a bit of a problem. On an ethical and moral plane, there is always an obligation to give back something for getting something.

At the risk of being branded a communist, Karl Marx comes into play here: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Everyone who uses Linux and FOSS gets from each “according to their need,” and conversely everyone who uses Linux and FOSS should contribute back “according to their ability.” While the Linux kernel is the domain of programmers, and they seem to be covered in this regard, there are thousands of other ways to help out in the distros and/or FOSS programs that you use. Distros and FOSS projects can always use help; some of you are already contributing to your chosen distro or software.

If so, thanks.

If not, then why not?

Can’t program? Neither can I, which is why I don’t contribute in that area — I want distros and FOSS programs to actually work.

Can you put words together to make sense, complete with subject-verb agreement? Help out with documentation.

Artistically inclined? Help out with graphics and design.

Are you a “people person”? Distros like Fedora, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu have ambassador-type communities that promote their distros, and other FOSS programs may have the same kind of programs as well.

Most distros — like Fedora, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu and others — would welcome your help and have things you can do. Same with FOSS programs like LibreOffice. You know what you use, and you can reach them through their Web sites.

The fact is there is a lot to be done and, chances are, you’re the one who can help out.

You’d be an idiot not to.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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Shuttleworth: All your rights are belong to us

August 4, 2011 5 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

Before I open palm — make that palms — and insert face, let me say that the Ubuntu community’s general mantra of “haters gonna hate” never really works as a valid argument when someone disagrees with what the self-appointed Ubuntu/Canonical leader/founder/Grand Poobah, or any other Ubuntu/Canonical leader, says. It’s a profoundly weak argument that first and foremost makes you sound shallow and stupid. It also makes you sound like you don’t have a reasonable response, as well as sounding like you’re incapable of responding.

Whether or not that is the case, do yourself a favor: Debate issues or don’t, but either way, don’t bring that moronic phrase to the table.

Having said that, I read a blog item by Fabian Scherschel this morning about how Mark Shuttleworth blogged late last month — in way, way, WAY too many words — he would like the rights to your work, please, if you contribute to Ubuntu/Canonical. Just hand them over to him on your way out the door to write more code which, of course, you can turn over to him as well when you’re done with it.

Don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and read Mark’s blog for yourself. Make sure you read all of it, and you might want to have a cup of coffee before you do.

I’ll wait.

While I wait, let me mention that the GPL V2 was established in 1991 — twenty years ago — and has withstood any and all legal challenges, both significant and frivolous, in the last two decades. Why do I bring that up? Ask me after you’re finished reading Mark’s blog.

Now, if you’re back from Mark’s blog and still awake, the item fails in a multiplicity of ways and, in a complex clause I’d like to be simpler, seems to seek to derive benefit from the licensed code work of others without compensation.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m just going to let Jef Spaleta drive here, reposting with his permission something he posted in the comments, in response to a discussion about maintenance (in the first paragraph) before outlining his difference of opinion with Mark Shuttleworth (Note: from the link you can scroll up to see the item he’s referring to about maintenance, if you wish):

“Clint,

“None of the maintenance arguments require copyright assignment. It’s completely hogwash. When an upstream project takes in a patch, they can do so on the same condition as it was given. There is no need for a copyright assignment on the grounds of any maintenance argument.

“Mark wants to mix the value inherent in owning the code with other things. He wants to mix it all together and guilt us into giving away our copyrights to corporations so he and other business leaders can then turn right around and make money proprietarzing the code we contributed. Not cool. Not cool at all in fact. If Canonical wants to go it alone and wants to staff the manpower necessary to build a platform that they can proprietarize without significant contribution or a healthy development community to help offset the costs, they are free to do that. But to suggest that is what the ecosystem needs to do more of is very damaging.

“And he continually gets the details wrong about the history of Qt assignment. Trolltech put some very important protections in place on their own behavior via some latching conditions if the open version of Qt ever stopped being developed that would allow the codebase to be released under BSD, pretty much nullifying the competitive advantage the controlling entity would get. He doesn’t like talking about that very important detail when he holds up Qt and Trolltech as good examples of assignment gone right. I know he’s aware of the history and the latching BSD release clauses. And yet, Canonical continues to refuse to put _any_ sort of protection in place. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t commit to the very strong protections the FSF provides in their assignment agreement. Mark expects Canonical to need to produce some proprietary products at some point, and so do I. So the strong FSF-like protections would be incompatible with Canonical’s business needs. But the Trolltech-like protections put on Qt when Qt required assignment? Completely possible for Canonical to commit to and provide some protections against the most egregious future behavior. And yet they still won’t commit to that either. That lack of interest in providing any protections with regard to egregious prioritization of contributed code and good-will is a real problem. I don’t see it changing as long as Shuttleworth remains in control of Canonical. That’s a real shame. I know there are people inside the fenceline who’d be more than happy to take a step towards a more comprehensible position, they just can’t.

“But on to the point about what it means to have a work for hire development culture in software. Indeed analogies never always fit. Just like all the hand wavy analogies Mark put forward in his blog post. So lets talk directly shall we.

“There is a reason why software companies hire developers. Part of any such contracting is invariably because of a need for ownership of the final creative work. Typically if you work for a software company anything you produce working for them is owned by them, its standard work for hire situations. You are paid a wage to produce creative works for someone else. Your wage is the compensation for the ownership of the work. If a software company (or any company really) wants to own the creative work being produced and be able to use the exclusivity of that ownership to then sell proprietary versions (without competitors being able to sell it as well) of the work in question they need to pay the developers of the work. It’s a simple as that.

“Any company that requires naked assignment (without protections against bad faith actions similar to what TrollTech or the FSF provide) is just trying to get the milk for free. And its shameful when they do it. Shameful.

“Apple gets that. Apple pays a fair wage to its developers and designers, and the end result is they own the stack. And crazier thing is, there are people are willing to pay non trivial amounts of money for the end result.

“Android, the other platform Mark is very concerned about now, doesn’t require an assignment. http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html and has the workings of an open development community styled around Apache.

“Let’s be very clear about that, Android.. the open platform that is kicking ass right now…does not require copyright assignment. Clearly if Google can make Android the juggernaut of OEM and user uptake that it is, there’s nothing stopping Canonical from following suit. Canonical does not need your copyright to compete. It’s a straight up falsehood meant entirely to encourage people to give up their copyrights so Canonical can proprietarize contributed code at some future date.

“In fact there’s nothing stopping Canonical from literally forking the Android codebase as it stands right now and building a competing product with differentiated interface bits and Canonical backed end services to replace the Google services. Again…all of this freedom to compete.. all done without an assignment requirement…just a contributors agreement which makes your attest its your code your contributing when you submit a patch for Android. And in reality, even that could probably be superceded with a signoff process which mimics the linux kernel’s sign off procedures to cut down on that paperwork. There’s some real benefits to keeping the redtape down to the bare minimum, but that’s another point, a point I think Micheal Meeks does a good job illustrating when he talks about libreoffice developer community growth. Anyways…

“Now does Google feel a higher maintenance burden for contributed Android code because they don’t own the copyrights? No of course not, that is absurd. The maintenance burden is what it is regardless of whether they own the rights to all the code. And the Android juggernaut keeps rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ along. This little side show about assignment is ultimately just a distraction for Mark and for Canonical, it’s not going to help them compete better in the marketplace its only going to serve to drain focus inside the company. It’s a real shame.”

I wish I had said that, Jef.

Oh, and GPLv2? I brought it up, oh, a year ago — or so it seems — because Mark makes my favorite misguided assumption in a plethora of misguided and invalid assumptions found in the lengthy blog: “I’d be willing to bet that, if some fatal legal flaw were discovered in the GPLv2, Linus would lead a process of review and discussion and debate about what to do about the Linux kernel, it would be testy and contentious, but in the end he would take a decision and most would follow to a new and better license.” Meanwhile, back on the planet Earth — a place I’ve never left, but Mark Shuttleworth has, literally and to his credit — in 20 years, there hasn’t been a “fatal legal flaw discovered,” let alone a case against the GPL challenged successfully in the courts. But if there were, I’m sure a better license would follow (this, of course, is not to say GPLv3 is that license, and I’m not going to field that here).

So, can we discuss or debate this, or are you just going to call me an idealogue or a hater and walk away? The choice is yours, but if you choose the latter, by all means please let the door hit you on the way out.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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Watching our backs, and paging Dr. Godwin

July 20, 2011 6 comments


OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON. Get there if you can, and give them my regards because I can’t make it this year :-(

Susan Linton at Ostatic writes a blog post about a poll taken by Tuxradar where the question is asked, “Is it time to start trusting Microsoft?”

I’ll wait for the laughter to die down.

The answer is clearly, “No. Absolutely not.” We should not trust Microsoft any farther than Steve Ballmer can throw a chair.

I’ve said this before publicly and despite being rebuked for it, I stand by it even though it’s a somewhat dogmatic position on the issue: You do everything — everything — in your power to keep Nazis from entering the synagogue. Clearly and historically, Microsoft has reveled in their role as digital brownshirts since one of their many ill-conceived, all-conquering goals was to strangle FOSS and Linux — which they consider a cancer — in its proverbial cradle; though 20 years later FOSS and Linux provide a more-than-viable alternative to the products coming out of Redmond, both in a commercial and a personal-computer realms.

Microsoft uber alles? Not on my watch, pal.

So don’t get me started on those who would be like Neville Chamberlain trying to achieve “peace in our time” with Microsoft when the results would more than likely be, well, catastrophic as they were in Europe in the late ’30s and ’40s.

A leopard (even a Snow Leopard, but we’re getting off-topic) can’t change its spots, and to hear folks even discuss bringing up the possibility of working with Microsoft arguably is akin to collaborating with the enemy.

Microsoft’s participation in contributions to the Linux kernel, as discussed here yesterday, is based on fixing virtualization code they contributed to the kernel when it appeared that they had taken GPLed code to include in their program. So their original contribution of the code to the Linux kernel a couple of years ago was to comply with the GPL; fixing it, too, was their responsibility as outlined by the license as well. Do they deserve any special consideration for doing what they’re supposed to do?

To think, even remotely, that Microsoft has somehow “seen the light” and has come around to embrace FOSS and Linux is pants-wetting laughable. Additionally, it remains to be seen how much “participation” will remain now that most, possibly all, of what they contributed may have been fixed this time around. My bet is that we’ll see Microsoft drop like a large stone from it’s “perch” as the fifth leading corporate contributor to the kernel, and very quickly.

So, you might ask — and even if you don’t — what can Microsoft do to earn the trust of FOSS/Linux advocates?

Simple. For Microsoft to earn my trust, they can merely do one thing: Open the code on their products, GPLing or releasing it under another acceptable license — that plain, that simple.

Let’s not hold our breaths for that one, since that will not happen, period. And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Microsoft, as they are today, even remotely would be a good corporate neighbor — let alone a trusted contributor — in the FOSS/Linux realm.

As my friend Ken Starks likes to say at the end of his blog posts, “All-righty then.”

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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