Saturday, December 31, 2005
Friday, December 30, 2005
Business as usual
"This year, Yahoo even supplied information that helped the government track and convict a political dissident who sent an e-mail message with forbidden thoughts from a Yahoo account; he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. "Business is business," said Jack Ma, Yahoo's chief in China. "It's not politics.""
Mr. Ma is confused. Business is politics; politics is business. A supposedly apolitical, this-is-only-business stance is political through and through. Please note Mr. Ma, your company is helping enforce the law in China.
Why is this comment appearing in this blog? You're still asking this question after having read the paper on the ethics of licensing schemes? But yes, the answer is straightforward: the business of software is a political business - to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Date change for Video Conference
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
The ethics of free software licensing
OK, so here is a description of Chapter 2 in "Decoding Liberation" plus another link to the paper (PDF version here) that is a skeleton for it (HTML version here). We presented this at the Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry Conference in July 2005 (at Twente University in the Netherlands - where I also got to check out some spectacular F-16 maneuvers taking place behind the university!). We discussed this paper in some detail with RMS, and interestingly enough, he felt like we were too harsh on open-source licenses like the BSD license (read on, as they say, to find out why this might be the case).
Chapter 2: Ethical Perspectives on Free Software
Software is subject to the same assessment in a normative dimension as other political and social phenomena. From an ethical perspective, one of the most pressing questions raised by free software is the question of the rights, and the restrictions on them, that are passed on to users and collaborators by software developers. That is, what freedoms do software users deserve, and how can they best be protected? We analyze free software licensing schemes in order to determine which most effectively protects such freedoms. Following the link from freedom to rights, we explore the nature of the right to access to software, locating it within contemporary theorizing on rights, human, social and economic. We conclude that so-called copyleft licensing schemes are the morally superior alternative. Our analysis provides a new perspective on the passionate debate among the free software, open source and proprietary software camps.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Moglen/RMS on GPL V3
Monday, December 26, 2005
The 'new paradigm'
"I have a simple test that I use in my talks to see whether my audience of computer industry professionals is thinking with the old paradigm or the new. "How many of you use Linux?" I ask. Depending on the venue, 20 to 80 percent might raise their hands. "How many of you use Google?" Every hand in the room goes up. And the light begins to dawn. Every one of them uses Google's massive complex of 100,000 Linux servers, but they were blinded to the answer by a mindset in which "the software you use" is defined as the software running on the computer in front of you. Most of the "killer apps" of the Internet-applications used by hundreds of millions of people-run on Linux or FreeBSD. But the operating system as properly defined is to these applications only a component of a larger system. Their true platform is the Internet".
Can you see what the relevance of this little tidbit is to the post below?
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Distro or just net service?
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Political Economy and FOSS
The chapter description from the book proposal will give you some idea of where this chapter is supposed to be headed (and where we're taking it, no worries!).
Chapter 1: Free Software: A History and Political Economy
We begin with a history of software development as an industrial process, characterizing the emergence of the GNU free software project in the 1980s as a natural step in the evolution of software, one that represents a challenge to entrenched interests such as Microsoft. We investigate the political economy of software, examining the extent to which free software invokes or revises traditional notions of property and production. In this narrative, the 1997 schism between the free software and open source movements—where a faction within the free software community changed tactics and language to court commercial interests—is a crucial event. We critique the open source movement’s co-optation of this project while arguing that free software remains committed to an anti-technocratic, emancipatory, yet pragmatic vision.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Video Conference on Open Source
A videoconference on the topic of “Ethics and Open Source Software” will take place January 9, 2006, from 12:00-2:00 EST (9:00-11:00 PST), under the auspices of NA-CAP.
Jon Dorbolo has posted a link to the conference blog.
Panel on FOSS at APA Central Division Meeting
American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting - Spring 2006 | April 26-29, 2006, Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Chicago, IL
Thursday, April 27th 5:15-7:15 pm
Participants: Scott Dexter, Samir Chopra (Brooklyn College-CUNY, CIS), John Snapper (IIT- Chicago), George Thiruvathukal (Loyola - CS), Matt Butcher, Thomas Wren (Loyola - Philosophy)
Hope you can make it - it promises to be a lively discussion.
Will Google show us the code?
As the slides went on, one thing became apparent: Google doesn't want you to know what its up to. On every second slide, our guest would point to some details about Google, and then remark, "of course, lots of things are just kept secret". (like how many Linux servers they own in their giant server farm). The irony of this state of secrecy maintained by a corporation whose mission is to make information available in the most convenient form possible was clearly lost on him (despite a question to this effect from me later on).
In any case, at question time, I asked him about whether Google had plans to release its source code. A rambling reply followed, about how Google does "want to give back to the community", how APIs have been released and so on. He then proceeded to make the following astonishing remark, "well, you know, we did take some stuff from the community like the code for the Linux kernel, but you know, we've customized it, so its completely new". Or words to that effect. Google picked Linux for technical reasons like customizability; something only possible on free software projects. But there is little that suggests that they will support the FOSS community other than the few bones that are being thrown out here. Perhaps I'm being too harsh; if so, feel free to write in, and tell me why Google's code offerings are significant.
In any case, a more interesting discussion followed shortly afterwards - more on that later.
Monday, December 19, 2005
What is "Decoding Liberation" about?
While it is theoretically possible to determine (and subsequently modify) the design and function of a computer program by examining its 0s and 1s, it is time-consuming and rarely attempted. Instead, modern software is written in ‘high-level languages’ which are based on natural languages, enabling programmers to read, understand, and modify each other’s work. Automated translation programs then convert this ‘source code’ into computer-executable binary code. Most commercial software is distributed in binary form only, thereby concealing the programming techniques by which these programs achieve their purposes. But there is an alternative: to distribute software with its source code. This is the guiding principle of free software.
Free software makes the knowledge and innovation of its creators publicly available. This liberation of code—celebrated in free software’s explicatory slogan “Think free speech, not free beer”—is the foundation, for example, of the Linux phenomenon. Some facets of the free software movement have been extensively documented: questions of the microeconomics (i.e., the individual motivations of free software developers) and macroeconomics (i.e., structures that support successful free software development) have been considered both by ‘insiders’ and by outside observers. Other questions, such as the place of free software with respect to labor and technology, and its role in the future regulation of cyberspace, have been examined by some theorists but remain analytically underdeveloped.
This book provides a synoptic philosophical perspective on the fundamental relationships between free software and freedom. Focusing on five main themes—the emancipatory potential of technology, social liberties, the facilitation of creativity, the objectivity of computing as a scientific practice, and the role of software as a language of interaction in a technologized world—we ask, What are the freedoms of free software, and how are they manifested? Free software continues to be hyped in the computing community; we show that the hype is well-founded and yet too narrowly focused: free software promises to transform not only technology but society as well.