Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blog has moved.

My blog has moved.

Check out the new address and find the old entries there too. I've closed comments here and made that blog ready to take comments.

Thanks for reading this blog.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Switching masters isn't freedom.

Lie's criticism is odd and hypocritical—he notices that Microsoft's "core fonts" are not free software fonts

The fonts are still available for anyone to use, but not to change. It is illegal to add support for more non-Western scripts.

Contrary to what some might read into Lie's wording here, the Microsoft fonts have never been free to modify (they did not undergo some relicensing where they were once free to modify but are immutable now; users have always been forbidden to modify the font or distribute modified versions to others). Lie didn't use the term "free software", but this part of his critique is quite comparable to what a free software advocate would notice.

Yet the fonts Lie recommends (Larabie's "Goodfish" family) are also not free software fonts, they're merely available at no price (gratis). There are scripts which have no representation in either the Microsoft fonts or the Goodfish fonts. If either were free software fonts (like the Bitstream Vera font family is), this could be corrected by the users as this has been in derivatives of the Bitstream Vera family. Furthermore, only 1-5 users are licensed to use the Goodfish fonts from (the officially sanctioned Larabie font distribution site). This means your distribution freedom is limited and thus the fonts are available gratis and users are denied crucial freedoms. It's rather ironic that this site claims "Because’s products are all downloadable, our customers often find that they need to return at a later date to download their fonts again." which is supposed to justify making site users register before they can get fonts. The irony is that if the fonts were licensed as free software, users could make copies and distribute them to others so they could go to their friends, neighbors, or some other site without these registration hurdles.

So it's odd that Lie would bother to use this criterion for judging the fonts and then suggest a font family that suffers from the same restrictions as what he's complaining about.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy of the last part of the essay cannot be overstated: all proprietary software distributors are monopolists. When you get the proprietary Opera browser, you can't fix the bugs in it, improve it, or share your improved copy with others. If you want any changes, you have to go to the proprietor—the monopolist—for those changes. There is no other place to go because everybody else is prohibited from helping. Opera won't distribute to you a copy of the Opera browser source code under a free software license to allow any of this activity.

Yet here's a monopolist decrying the state of affairs for fonts.

I appreciate the bad position the user is in with fonts on the web, but the way out is not to build a dependence on fonts you can't use, inspect, share, and modify anywhere you want for any purpose. The way out is to find free software fonts (they exist, I'm using some now and I've named one such family) or make them, build on them to improve them, use them, and distribute the font so the community benefits. You can find free fonts for a variety of languages, even projects working on fonts that will work with multiple languages. Use your favorite search engine and look for "free software fonts".

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A response to another blogger's post.

A response to what's building on this thread

Free software and commercial software are not opposites. Many business distribute free software as part of business activity, hence commercial software includes free software. Free software doesn't deny anyone "the freedom to conduct commerce". Proprietary software (which is what you probably meant to say instead of "commercial software") denies users the freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify the program whenever they want for whatever purpose due to the way in which the program is licensed to the user. These freedoms are more important than profit and do not in any way stop one's business from making profit. Most proprietors discover that they can't run their business like Microsoft does because they can't muscle the world's governments to stop enforcing the law like Microsoft can.

Yes, RMS is joking with Saint EMACS. It's a widely recognized bit of humor in an otherwise serious speech. I've seen him deliver that bit before and the audiences get it as humorous.

RMS is not a part of "open source" anything--he's made it very clear that he is a member of the older and (frankly, more principled) free software community. He even wrote an essay on the differences between the two movements. He isn't advocating for only GPL-covered software. He's advocating for all published software to be free software which, by the way, is as it used to be (we didn't have the free software movement then because we didn't need it, it was our way of everyday computing life and didn't seem to be threatened until rather recently). Non-copylefted free software licenses give their users freedom and power--the power to deny other users software freedom for derivative works and even verbatim copies. That's why copyleft is so important--all computer users deserve freedom, not just the ones that get their software from those who choose to distribute free software.

Finally, GNU/Linux is a good name because it gives a share of the credit to GNU and can even spur people to inquire about what GNU is, thus presenting an opportunity to help others better understand software freedom. Linus Torvalds doesn't advocate for software freedom, he eschews it. He's in line with open source methodology sometimes and other times just out for his own education. This is fine, he can be a member of whatever movement he wishes and espouse his own ideas on what is valuable. But that should not be the only ideas people come in contact with and it should not represent the GNU Project which has different goals than he does. Whatever objection you have to giving GNU a share of the credit, I'm pretty sure the GNU/Linux naming FAQ has a response for you.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Stop accepting crappy licensing.

Red Hat, distributors of a popular GNU/Linux system, recently held a summit in Nashville. They recorded the talks and are releasing copies of them online. But you're prohibited from distributing copies of the talks to your friends, even non-commercially and verbatim without hassle.

Three Fedora Core GNU/Linux fans (Bob Lord, Christopher Blizzard, and Mark McLoughlin) are chatting these talks up online, in particular one from Prof. Eben Moglen, chief counsel for the Free Software Foundation. Prof. Moglen himself directed me to his Wikipedia page noting in an impressed way that it was far more up to date on his work than his own site.

I posted the following to McLoughlin's blog. I reproduce it here because people tend to edit out uncomfortable posts from their blogs (I don't, not even the ones that point out mistakes in my posts). This is one of the shortcomings of blogs supplanting netnews as a viable democratic communication medium (there are other limitations in this transition as well).

McLoughlin notes that Moglen's speech is worth hearing, so much so that you can skip to any part of it and hear something pithy. To which I replied:

The more laudatory the speech, the more of a shame it is that the movies are licensed to prohibit sharing by default:

All materials on this program are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, or otherwise published without the prior written permission of Red Hat, Inc. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice. However, provided that you maintain all copyright and other notices contained therein, you may download the video (one machine readable copy) for your personal, non-commercial use only.

So, in other words, enjoy the freedoms of free software but don't you dare spread this movie file around to tell other people about it.

Not everyone who needs to hear these things has net access, a computer, or an interest in sitting in front of a computer. I host a radio program where I play free software-related talks and discuss free software-related issues. I'd love to play Prof. Moglen's talk, but I can't because either I have to go through a hell of a lot of hassle to share it or I'd play something my listeners are prohibited from sharing further.

When Red Hat takes this material off the Internet, people will just have to settle for explaining this not half as well as Eben Moglen did. Even verbatim non-commercial sharing is prohibited by default unless you ask the copyright holder each and every time you want to share. Did some video post-production house slap that silly restrictive license there without understanding who their audience was?

Red Hat should relicense these to at least allow non-commercial verbatim sharing in any medium so long as a simple license sentence is copied with the work, and re-edit the movies to edit out that text I quoted above. I have a hard time believing that any of the speakers would object to this (in particular Eben Moglen, chief counsel for the FSF). If the music copyright holders don't like it, excise the music (it's not the music we're interested in hearing anyhow) or find more amenably licensed music (perhaps a CC track).

I would have posted this on Chris Blizzard's blog as well, but he turned off comments to his blog.

Bob Lord wants to to share copies of the keynote talks with friends, but Red Hat won't let him or you -- at least not without considerable hassle.

I'm grateful that the talks are in a format one can play with free software: copies of the talks so far are in Ogg Vorbis+Theora. However, it's ironic that Lord points out the talks concern "ideas like freedom, culture, innovation, and the well-being of children on the other side of the planet" while the licensing of the recordings of these talks exemplify the opposite consideration.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Phil Zimmermann: how the tables have turned.

Phil Zimmermann, initial programmer of "PGP"—Pretty Good Privacy—brought strong encryption to the masses. For three years ending in 1996, Zimmermann was under criminal investigation for violating export restrictions on strong encryption due to his work on PGP. Furthermore, PGP was not free software for everyone, only for those in non-profit organizations. Eventually GPG—the GNU Privacy Guard—was written by a completely different group of hackers and we no longer had to do without strong encryption or choose between giving up valuable freedoms in exchange for enjoying strong encryption.

Now Zimmermann has distributed Zfone, a program much like the PGPfone program years ago: encrypted voice communication in real time over the Internet. But there's a huge catch: you give up a lot to get the software or (according to what the license tries to assert) use it. I only followed the registration procedure long enough to read the license, portions of which I quote below.

The Zfone software can only be copied "a reasonable number" (section 1a) of times, one is not allowed to make the software do what the user needs it to do (section 2a disallows modifications not specified in section 1), and one is disallowed from copying the software beyond what is described in section 1 (section 2b). Sections 2d and 2f prohibit sharing copies of the source code except in one circumstance.

Section 2e of Zfone's license tries to set restrictions for merely running the compiled program (something the FSF once said couldn't be done under American copyright law outside of a license manager or an encryption manager).

Section 3 of Zfone's license tries to prohibit users from discussing "any security-related bug, problem, deficiency, or weakness in the Zfone software on any web site or other public forum, or otherwise disclose or provide any such information to anyone else" without Zimmermann's permission.

Unlike PGP which at one time was considered semi-free software because it didn't convey the freedoms to use, copy, distribute, and modify the program to all of its users, this program's license tries to curtail one's freedom of speech in addition to taking away one's software freedom. Ironic that this should come from the man who was once under criminal investigation by the US Government (a time he refers to as "government persecution" on his website) in which he probably felt the loss of his civil liberties. I very much doubt that Zfone's software would qualify as semi-free software. Zfone should be avoided. Instead it would be better to enhance free software VOIP (such as Ekiga) to do the job of sending and receiving strongly encrypted data, and making free software VOIP programs compatible with Zfone so that interoperability is possible without giving up valuable freedoms.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

He stole the show.

Eben Moglen's talk at the 2006 Free Software Foundation Associate Membership meeting stole the show. I am glad I was there. I am glad there's a high-quality recording available (of all of the talks) in a free format under a license that allows redistribution in any form so long as a simple verbatim license accompanies the work.

My father and I went and we both agreed that Prof. Moglen stole the show. He was well worth the price of admission.

This is well worth listening to. I'm going to spend some time writing a transcript because I think this is worth close inspection and analysis.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cockburn, Nader, and Frank, and a movie recommendation.

Cockburn, Nader, and Frank hitting the nail on the head. Again.

A movie to see: "Why We Fight". If you enjoy informative documentaries, you'll like "Why We Fight". I paid to see both in a local small theater, and I hope a portion of my ticket price went to the filmmakers. They earned it.