Free and open source software issues - dissected threadbare
Monday, January 30, 2006
Negreponte's laptop goes Linux
An article in today's New York Timeson the contentious relationship between Microsoft and Nicholas Negreponte. Plans for his $100 laptop do not include Windows, and it seems like open source is the reason:
"..months of discussions with Microsoft and Apple Computer about using their operating system software for his computer had been fruitless...the laptops would use a version of Linux, the open-source operating system. Microsoft had encouraged Mr. Negroponte to consider using..Windows CE...and had been prepared to make an open-source version...available.
Steven P. Jobs...had also offered a free version of his company's OS X operating system, but Mr. Negroponte rejected that idea because the software was largely not open-source, meaning users could not get free access to software and its source code, which they could then modify.
Mr. Negroponte said...that he had resolved to use Linux not because it was free but because of its quality and maintainability.
"I chose open-source because it's better," he said. "I have 100 million programmers I can rely on."
The general trend of open-source news seems to be a mix of, "X goes to open-source for application Y", or, "industry figure So-and-So comments on open source", or, "is open-source right for you?" and so on. Daily headlines seem to reflect these concerns on an ongoing basis without fear of repeating themselves. Thus, it seems that almost every day I read a piece discussing OSS on the desktop, or cost-savings in OSS adoption. Another constant player is concern about licensing issues: "will our key business processes be exposed?". I find most of these pieces insufferably turgid, as they are written in that most deadly of all jargons: business-speak about processes, core-competencies and so on.
The concerns in free software settings is markedly different as the discussion surrounding GPL V3 shows: privacy infringements, the morality of digital rights managements, infringements on the freedom of choice of software users and so on. And every once in a while, as Scott's post below showed, something that really is a free-software issue gets reported as an open source issue (and I co-operated by talking about it as if it were!).
The difference in concerns speaks directly to the difference in philosophies. There can be no better illustration of what the concerned sofware user should be thinking about.
Andrew Leonard writes about Brian Behlendorf, a Young Global Leader if you will, going to Davos. I'm not sure what Brian is going to get up to, but I hope he uses the opportunity to dispel confusions about free software, and given the global nature of his audience, to spread the word far and wide. While the busines potential of 'open source' will get talked up for sure, I hope he is able to impress upon folks the liberatory potential - in more ways than one - of free software for the Global South.
Samir and I have been thinking about the role of free software in some sort of cyborg future (along the lines of Andy Clark's Natural-Born Cyborgs)... at first blush, it seems that free software might make the difference between utopia and dystopia (prosthetics by Diebold holding little appeal). But then the scene gets hazy.
If (following Clark's argument) we have always been becoming man-machine symbionts, then 'I' am as much my extra-biological extensions (and the code that power them) as I am a lump of flesh. Is it reasonable to expect me to free the code that runs/is me?
Maybe there's a neo-Kerckhoffsian argument that says the key to our individuality lies in our data, not in our algorithms? Seems a bit simplistic, though. So, where do we turn to figure out how to negotiate the boundary between free software and individual autonomy?
A little naked sectarianism... why does the open source movement get (nearly) all the credit in the struggle to free voting machine code? It's not like we're clamoring for technically superior voting machine code; no, this is an open-and-shut case of "free as in 'free speech'".
Actually, it reminds me more of the old days, when IBM's software was free just because no-one imagined it could have value independent of hardware. Diebold has plenty of patents so why is it worried about letting go of its code?
Gabriella Coleman, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers, whose dissertation is on hacker cultures, ethics and politics (or lack thereof), attended the GPL V3 kickoff conference in Boston and blogged on it. Check it out - she has useful links in there.
I often monitor Indian sites for free software news, a natural enough inclination given the importance that the Indian scene has for the world of free software (the FSF has three chapters, one is in India). So, here is a reasonably interesting article from the Indian portal rediff.com - mainly for some numbers it provides on the speed at which Microsoft fixes bugs. Articles like this, which constitute a form of advocacy for free and open source in the Indian business world, need to be monitored as a crucial indicator of which way that part of the world will go. On a related note, I really dig the sincerity of the FSF India site. Do check it out. I really wish Indian bloggers would pay it more attention, and help them in getting the word out.
I'm curious. Are there any all-GPL distros out there? The GNU site recommends blag as a distro (saying its all free software), but its not clear if its all GPL (but, I think, when I did the install, they did throw up the GPL screen before commencing so perhaps it is). But, my experience on a Dell 4150 wasn't great. I'll post that later. So, a quick question. Why doesn't the FSF come out with a distro? It would be a huge hit (though I suspect the answer to my question is that it would be a distraction for them, and they just don't have the manpower or funds to support it).
You tell me. Its all cool, as far as I'm concerned, if The Postal Service sells more records (or continues to make great music while earning a living), and oh, yes, if Apple goes fully open source. Write, fax, or call your local Apple representative.
"So is it ethical, in this case, to restrict their freedom to restrict their own freedom? Or is that nanny statism? It's a bit of a quandry, really.."
This indeed, is the classical opposition between copyleft and non-copyleft free software licenses. For the former place one restriction on you: you cannot restrict the freedoms of others. The latter place no restrictions whatsoever. Which is the better (more moral) license?
Scott and I wrote on this, presenting our work at the Computer Ethics-Philosophical Enquiry Conference last summer in Enschede, Netherlands. Here is a link to the paper.
We will be discussing this paper in the video conference on open source on February 9t. Here is the announcement, with details on how to participate and watch included.
In response to the question "I use Linux. Can I install Google Pack?", Google says:
"Google Pack isn't currently available for Linux. We realize that a lot of our users would like us to offer a Linux version, and we may consider this option in the future." [emphasis added]
Why didn't they add the following:
"Though our business is based on Linux servers, and we used the code of the Linux community to get to where we are today, we really have very little interest in giving back. Coz, like, its the economic bottom-line, you know. We're not doing evil"
"Open source is neither good nor bad.Open source is not a religion. It is not an ideology. It can be used for both good and bad. It does not inhabit the higher moral ground, nor is it a more ethical way to conduct business. It just is, and it will continue to grow and expand."
Its late, and so I'm not going to try and exegize his horribly jargonish business-style writing now but will try a bit later. (Groan)
I'd be very interested in hearing from folks that have distributed code using a free software license (copyleft or non-copyleft) - to ascertain what their decision making criteria was in using a particular license. Why the BSD or MIT licenses as opposed to the GPL or vice-versa? (for instance).
In Chapter 2 of "Decoding Liberation" (the abstract of which I will post very soon) we evaluate free software licensing schemes, and in order to give this a bit of an empirical flavor it will be very interesting to hear from programmers themselves on what sort of criteria they worked with when making their decisions.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Voting Standards for New York
In (U.S. Threatens to Sue Albany Over Voting, NYT, Thursday January 12th), Michael Cooper notes that, "The Board of Elections is still hearing public comments about what kind of standards to require for voting machines.".
The New York State Board of Elections should follow the lead of Wisconsin in requiring that all voting machines use free or open source software. This will ensure a minimum level of transparency for the electoral process. Citizens do not hesitate to ask for transcripts of court proceedings, Congressional hearings or records of other governmental functions. So why not ask that the management of elections, a governmental process, be as open as possible?
I must confess, I haven't fully wrapped my head around this initiative to 'improve the quality of software patents' yet, and I'm going to read a bit more before shooting off.
In any case, I'm reminded of a sad little story I heard from a friend, who was telling me all about the number of patents he had applied for, and received. When I asked him why he was busy patenting, he replied, "Its a defensive measure. I don't want someone suing me down the line so I patent first". What a sad story. Is this what patent law has come to?
You wouldn't feel shy about asking for transcripts of court proceedings, Congress hearings or records of other governmental functions, would you? So, why feel shy for asking that the management of elections, a governmental process, be as open as possible?
A videoconference on "Ethics and Open Source Software" will take place February 9, 2006, from (), under the auspices of NA-CAP. The conference is open to the public, although it is an extension of the August 2005 NA-CAP meeting, where open source issues were discussed with great enthusiasm.
NA-CAP members Scott Dexter and Samir Chopra (both from CUNY Brooklyn) will present the lead paper, "The Ethical Dimensions of Open Source Software," which discusses such topics as intellectual property rights and Richard Stallman's well-known opposition to proprietary software. Other papers may be added (see below). Dexter and Chopra's paper continues the line or reasoning expressed in a previous paper on the aesthetics of Open Source software, which they presented last August at the NA-Cap meeting at Oregon State University (OSU).
The videoconference will have a panel format, in which several philosophers and computer scientists will act as commentators before the discussion is opened to all participants. Persons wishing to present a short paper of their own or to join the panel of commentators, should contact one of the conference coordinators Tom Wren and Matt Butcher, at Loyola University Chicago (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org). Persons planning to participate are encouraged to send one of the conference coordinators a short email to that effect so that we can contact you if there are any last-minute changes. The deadline for submitting additional conference papers is February 1st. Accepted papers will be posted in the conference blog at http://oregonstate.edu/osuwrite.
The meeting will be a multipoint videoconference, with nodes located at several universities including OregonStateUniversity (the conference hub), Loyola University Chicago, CUNY Brooklyn, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. If you would like to add your institution to this list, please make the appropriate arrangements with your local videoconferencing staff and then contact the conference coordinators as soon as possible to learn what else needs to be done by way of registering your institution as a conference point. The deadline for completing this process is two weeks before the videocast, i.e., January 25th.
In order to participate in the multipoint video conference, the following information must be received by Tom Wren (email@example.com) by Wednesday January 25, 2005.
1. The name of your institution.
2. The name of at least one main participant.
3. The IP address from which you will join the video conference.
4. The name, phone number, and email address of the technical person in charge of setting up video conferencing at your institution.
If you wish to include a paper or comment relevant to the conference topic, send it in .PDF format to Tom Wren (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Wednesday, February 1, 2005. (note: acceptance of a paper or comment requires that the complete and relevant conference information has already been received).
All of this information is necessary by the deadline in order to join the conference. Late submissions will not be considered.Oregon State University video conferencing services supports the major online video formats, yet we cannot guarantee a match to every institution. We will make every effort to support all participants, but it is possible that some sites cannot be technically supported.Meeting the registration deadline will allow coordination with your local technical staff, affording the best odds for success.
For those who do not have videoconferencing facilities, a live internet broadcast of the conference will be streamed from the OSU server. An online video recording of the conference will also be available afterwards. For further details, including the URL of the broadcast, contact the conference coordinators.
Persons interested in these issues are also encouraged to join in the Open Source blog mentioned above. As of late December the blog includes links to the following items. Others will be added as they come in:
-“What is Free Software?” (by Richard Stallman)
-“Open Source Definition” (by Bruce Perens, et al.)
-“A Comparative Ethical Assessment of Free Software Licensing Schemes” (by S. Dexter and S. Chopra)
Videoconference Date and Time: February 9, 2006, from ()
Sponsoring Organization: NA-CAP, but open to the public
Registration: No cost. Pre-registration (by email to the conference coordinators) is encouraged but not required except that it is the responsibility of videoconference participants to make the appropriate arraignments with their own institutions and the conference coordinators.
Deadlines: The deadline for registering IPs is Jan. 25th. The deadline for submitting papers is Feb. 1st.
Abstract for chapter on free software and aesthetics
Freedom facilitates creativity. How is this phenomenon manifested in the aesthetics of free software production? In free software, the anticipated gaze of users and collaborators redounds to the artistic act of production and design. That is, a software system whose source code will be released for the scrutiny of other programmers requires a transparent code aesthetic. Free software developers benefit from a worldwide audience of critics and collaborators. Not only critical feedback but also community participation in the act of creation improves the quality and correctness of the artifact, while simultaneously honing the skills of the artisans. This unique environment, and its concomitant emergent coding practices, we argue, makes the greatest contribution to the quality of free software: free software design creates better programmers, not just better programs. It is the only software design aesthetic that necessarily modifies the artist as well as the artifact. In this chapter, we develop a theory of software aesthetics drawing on theories ranging from the ancient Greeks to modern computer science, and show how free software is able to best satisfy the demands of this aesthetic.