Friday, March 31, 2006

Argentina in the house

An interesting article from Nerd Gaucho on a bunch of Argentinian students helping Apache in in its quest to get an open source, J2SE 5.0-compatible java runtime and virtual machine happening. I love the photo of the eager hackers!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On going open-source

An interesting discussion of a small firm taking a successful application open-source... The question of "How will the users feel about it?" is an interesting one—why would a user think it's a bad thing? Also interesting: the hope that freeing the source will also ensure the survival of the associated file format.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Losing the rhetorical battle

Now, may I say something about Lessig on DRM? I haven't even fully digested Sun's announcement and neither have I fully digested the literate discussion (with some flaming) going on at his blog. But I think something like this is inevitable when people start thinking of open source i.e., a development methodology alone, as opposed to free software i.e., a particular take on what rights users of software deserve. My suspicion is that Lessig has somehow conflated the quality of the development methodology with the latter, and gone ahead and endorsed SUN's move. But even worse, he has offered an endorsement without thinking too hard, it seems, without what effect this could have on the rhetorical landscape surrounding this debate. Lessig is now an "endorser" and will be used in this capacity (quoted endlessly) by SUN (and other DRM proponents). Its not too hard to imagine SONY saying "Look, even the foremost free culture exponent, the man who fought the Eldred v. Ashcroft appeal, is endorsing DRM". Yes, yes, I know, he's endorsed a certain kind of DRM, but do you think that will really matter to SONY? Or BMG?

Lessig on DRM

A rather disturbing development: Lawrence Lessig, champion of free culture, offers a wierd, quasi-endorsement of DRM. Read the post at his blog, and read the comments that follow.

Here is what David Berry wrote on the Libre Society Mailing List:

"Lessig seems very naive to me here. The DRM instead of being embedded is merely transferred to a rights server. Thus the client, although open-source open-standards blah blah blah can only unlock the presumably encrypted content using a key linked to the meta-DRM data in the file. So how is this helping fair-use? How does this guarantee an 'ecology for creativity'? It just means that DRM can be implemented on open-source systems unproblematically and opens the door to truly ubiquitous DRM-everywhere.?

If anything this is the killer-app for wide ranging DRM systems as now even free software/open-source will not stand in the way of DRM implementation as the kernel of encryption/decryption has been moved away from the client and placed safely within the boundaries of the corporation licensing. It just seems to me like a public/private key encryption system (similar to email) that allows the content industry to convince open-source developers to get onboard.?

I suppose the devil is in the detail, so the question is what stands in the way of the open-source developers taking the now decrypted content and just saving it off as an MP3 or whatever? Certainly the level of invasion of privacy by this system which licenses to the user identity and continually watches how they 'consume' content is a bit weird.?"

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A useful page

You will notice that I've added a new link in the sidebar. That is David Wheeler's references bibliography for free software/open source. It has tons of good links, and is a very useful resource for someone like me. Check it out. And if you like it, drop him a note of thanks. (Check out his home page as well - even more goodies to be found).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Just a business model?

I'm a bit late on this but no harm done. Check out this article, which links to Larry Ellison shooting his notoriously big mouth off. What worries me about pieces like these is the way that "open source" is very rapidly becoming corporate-speak. Note especially the following line:

"Fundamentally, Open Source vs Proprietary software is a contest between different business models being pursued by such corporate giants as IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, and Microsoft."

I dunno - do you sense an attempt to try and change the meaning of the term?

Sunday, March 12, 2006


An interesting article in Techworld about one variety of co-optation thats possible when open-source flirts with closed-source. Its articles like this that make me a) resist the idea that introducing open-source into the world of formerly-proprietary-source models has any influence on the central issue of making software free, and b) accept the claim that it opens the door to an eventual "embrace, extend, extinguish" situation.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Continuing the nice debate that Biella, David , Scott and myself have been having over at Biella's blog (Scott's being doing all the hard work with actually putting up the posts!).

Check out the last post up there. We were tossing this around on Monday and came up with that little analysis as the best way to sum up what our problem is with the changed language in the open source world (as opposed to the 'free software' lingo Eric Raymond seeks to displace).

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Advocating open source in universities

So, here is a nice piece by Annelies Kamran, a graduate student at the City University of New York Graduate Center, arguing that the school should move to Linux as its OS of choice. The piece was written in response to recurring problems with the disaster-prone systems that faculty and students constantly seem to be struggling with at the CUNY Graduate Center. Last year, when crisis situations were occurring frequently, there was a golden opportunity to set things right, and a minor movement brewed at the Graduate Center (I wrote an email or two, suggesting we find free software replacements for the most popular user applications). Unfortunately, any plans to do so were shot down by the intransigence of University administrators, who according to a systems manager at the Graduate Center, didn't want to have to change their calendars (tied to Outlook as they were) or learn a new email client.

Silly me, I thought the university was about the students and faculty first.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Neoliberalism and open source

Biella has a nice discussion of some of David Berry's work on the discourses of the free and open source movement. I posted this comment (which is currently waiting to be moderated in):
This question of the differences between ‘official’ movement language and the daily practice of individual developers is such an interesting one!

Bracketing the questions of neoliberalism for a moment, I’m not sure there’s such a gap between your position, Biella, and David’s. One of the things Samir and I have been thinking about a fair amount is that Stallman (and Moglen, who indeed seems much more comfortable using explicitly political — Marxist and anarchist — language than Stallman) appear intentially to occupy an extreme position (where that’s in no way a pejorative term) on the ’spectrum of liberalism.’ This both establishes one end of the spectrum (and possibly extends the spectrum itself) and also provides a sort of lodestar for the community.

I interpret most of Raymond’s writing as an effort to serve similarly as an ideological guidepost for the corporate opensource folks; I’m not certain that places him at the opposite end of the liberal spectrum, but he certainly does put language to work distancing himself from Stallman and his unruly band of ideological tub-thumpers.

So Stallman/Moglen and Raymond do stake out dichotomous positions, but positions that establish, rather than obliterate, a continuum.

Re: neoliberalism. It doesn’t sound like you’re contesting David’s claims that Raymond’s language is neoliberal (I don’t contest them, myself); rather, you’re suggesting that there might be an overstrong identification being made between Raymond’s language/politics and “open source on the ground.” Which, I think, is a very good point. I think many of us (certainly Samir and I continue to be guilty of this) have a tendency to view FS/OS as some kind of Kinsey scale, where we could theoretically measure the FSuality of a particular developer as 42%. It’s a very useful simplifying assumption, one I don’t think we should abandon–but I’m fairly sure that were we to include less formally published writings in our analyses we’d need to deploy a theoretical structure significantly more complex than either dichotomy or continuum.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Grey Lady on OpenDocument

The Grey Lady speaks on the open standards story. I love the tone of New York Times pieces (this shows up especially in their global reportage) wherein it is assumed that their readers will simply not know what they are talking about, as in this little gem:

"With government records, reports and documents increasingly being created and stored in digital form, there is a software threat to electronic access to government information and archives. The problem is that public information can be locked in proprietary software whose document formats become obsolete or cannot be read by people using software from another company."

Here is the real story: "30 companies, trade groups, academic institutions and professional organizations are announcing today the formation of the OpenDocument Format Alliance, which will promote the adoption of open technology standards by governments."

Keep an eye open for this standard vs. the Microsoft-pushed OpenXML.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blag on the desktop

I'm now running three different distros: Suse 9.3 on my laptop at home, Ubuntu on my home desktop and Fedora Core 3 on my work desktop. I'm now considering going to blag on my work desktop - thanks to a recommendation from Nerd Gaucho. I did try blag for my Dell Inspiron 4150 and gave up for a while after failing to get it to recognize my wireless card. (I'm not sure I did everything right on the install though). In any case, blag it is for the work desktop, and I'll report in next week on how things went.