The gNewSense project is pleased to announce version 2.2 of its 100% FSF Free GNU/Linux distribution. This is the second point update to the release codenamed 'deltah'.
This release was made 2009-04-15, and contains all security updates made to the archive up to and including 2009-04-14.
This release introduces GLX back into the default install. This enables hardware accelaration by default, meaning Compiz and 3D games will work once again.
As with 2.1, gNewSense 2.2 is available as a live cd for x86 (i386) systems, using GNOME as the default desktop environment (others such as XFCE or KDE are available post installation).
EFF Releases How-To Guide to Fight Government Spying
'Surveillance Self-Defense' Gives Practical Advice on Protecting Your Private Data
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched its Surveillance Self-Defense project today -- an online how-to guide for protecting your private data against government spying. You can find the project at http://ssd.eff.org.
EFF created the Surveillance Self-Defense site to educate Americans about the law and technology of communications surveillance and computer searches and seizures, and to provide the information and tools necessary to keep their private data out of the government's hands. The guide includes tips on assessing the security risks to your personal computer files and communications, strategies for interacting with law enforcement, and articles on specific defensive technologies such as encryption that can help protect the privacy of your data.
"Despite a long and troubling history in this country of the government abusing its surveillance powers, most Americans know very little about how the law protects them or about how they can take steps to protect themselves against government surveillance," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The Surveillance Self-Defense project offers citizens a legal and technical toolkit with tips on how to defend themselves in case the government attempts to search, seize, subpoena or spy on their most private data."
Surveillance Self-Defense details what the government can legally do to spy on your computer data and communications, and what you can legally do to protect yourself against such spying. It addresses how to protect not only the data stored on your computer, but also the data you communicate over the phone or the Internet and data about your communications that are stored by third party service providers.
"You can imagine the Internet as a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up all of the private information that you let near it. We want to show people the tools they can use to encrypt and anonymize data, protecting themselves against government surveillance," said EFF Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley. "Privacy is about mitigating risks and making tradeoffs. Every decision you make about whether to save an email, chat online, or search with or sign into Google has privacy implications. It's important to understand those implications and make informed decisions based on them, and we hope that Surveillance Self-Defense will help you do that."
Surveillance Self-Defense was created with the support of the Open Society Institute.
Day 34 - MOB TV
Koh Choon Lin writes:
"I am very frustrated by my local media provider, MOBTV, who provides video-on-demand service. It is a subscription-based service that provides viewers with immediate access to their favorite programmes.
According to their FAQ, their subscribers would need a computer loaded with non-free software like Microsoft Windows, Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer with ActiveX. For GNU/Linux users in Singapore, that means we would be unable to access their content. Thinking I could still access the media files using free software, it was then discovered that all MOBTV videos are encrypted with DRM technology and I would need proprietary DRM software to view them. Worse, even though the videos are downloaded onto the computer and can be watched at a later time, they can only be played if one has a valid subscription with MOBTV.
Incredibly, once the videos are removed from MOBTV servers, their subscribers will not be able to view them even if they had downloaded the video to their computer. While free software users in Singapore can only hope for a change in the media market, prudence suggests that there may be more to come and we had better be prepared for the worst after DeCSS was banned."
This follows an amendment to Singapore's copyright law, allowing people with visual impairment to break the encryption on ebooks and other digital media, whilst allowing academics to extract clips from copy-protected movies for classroom use.
"The Copyright Act has also been amended to prohibit home users from cracking obsolete computer programs or video games for which they had lost the access codes, even if they originally bought the items," reports Chua Hian Hou for The Straits Times, going on to say, "For instance, users are still prohibited from using a password generator to generate access codes to play video games or using software like DeCSS to make unauthorised copies of DVD movies. Those found guilty face fines of up to $20,000."
Free Software Foundation Files Suit Against Cisco For GPL Violations
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Thursday, December 11, 2008 -- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced that it has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Cisco. The FSF's complaint alleges that in the course of distributing various products under the Linksys brand Cisco has violated the licenses of many programs on which the FSF holds copyright, including GCC, binutils, and the GNU C Library. In doing so, Cisco has denied its users their right to share and modify the software.
Most of these programs are licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), and the rest are under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). Both these licenses encourage everyone, including companies like Cisco, to modify the software as they see fit and then share it with others, under certain conditions. One of those conditions says that anyone who redistributes the software must also provide their recipients with the source code to that program. The FSF has documented many instances where Cisco has distributed licensed software but failed to provide its customers with the corresponding source code.
"Our licenses are designed to ensure that everyone who uses the software can change it," said Richard Stallman, president and founder of the FSF. "In order to exercise that right, people need the source code, and that's why our licenses require distributors to provide it. We are enforcing our licenses to protect the rights that everyone should have with all software: to use it, share it, and modify it as they see fit."
"We began working with Cisco in 2003 to help them establish a process for complying with our software licenses, and the initial changes were very promising," explained Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF. "Unfortunately, they never put in the effort that was necessary to finish the process, and now five years later we have still not seen a plan for compliance. As a result, we believe that legal action is the best way to restore the rights we grant to all users of our software."
"Free software developers entrust their copyrights to the FSF so we can make sure that their work is always redistributed in ways that respect user freedom," said Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF. "In the fifteen years we've spent enforcing our licenses, we've never gone to court before. We have always managed to get the companies we have worked with to take their obligations seriously. But at the end of the day, we're also willing to take the legal action necessary to ensure users have the rights that our licenses guarantee."
The complaint was filed this morning in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Software Freedom Law Center, which is providing representation to the FSF in this case. The case is number 08-CV-10764 and will be heard by Judge Paul G. Gardephe. A copy of the complaint is available on the FSF web site.
The Big Push 2009 -- Free Software Foundation Appeal
Donate now or Become a member!
Dear Free Software Supporter,
Peter T. Brown, Executive Director, Free Software Foundation
Our community has made enormous progress in creating tools that enhance communication and freedom -- with profound effect on people's lives. Free software has become a model for how our society can progress collaboratively, and members of our community are at the forefront in expressing these ideals.
End Software Patents
Advocacy, diplomacy, and education are a vital part of the work the Free Software Foundation does for the free software community -- but to clear a path for free software adoption, our work has to also reach beyond this community. We reach a wider audience with important campaigns on related ethical issues, such as Defective By Design -- our campaign to eliminate DRM, which has had a profound effect on the way people look at digital restrictions on music, games, electronic books and video. And as web applications and other network services become increasingly popular and convenient, we are working to ensure that computer users are not asked to give up their freedom in order to use them. Our release of the GNU Affero General Public License and ongoing discussions with the autonomo.us group represent a solid foundation to tackle this issue and help our community further develop free software alternatives for the benefit of society.
Today, there are many questions that the free software community needs to tackle -- Does your employer or school require you to use Microsoft software? Are you required to use proprietary formats to interact with your bank or local government? Are your children being trained to use Microsoft or Apple rather than learning how to be in control of the computers they use?
As advocates for free software, we can challenge the status quo and so-called convenience of using the invasive tools of proprietary software companies, because the opportunities for change have never been better:
End Software Patents
The Free Software Foundation through its End Software Patents (ESP) campaign filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in their en banc hearing of in re Bilski -- http://endsoftpatents.org/bilski -- the Bilski ruling gutted, if not technically overturned, the State Street ruling that in 1998 opened the floodgates to the patenting of business methods and software. The vast bulk of software patents that have been used to threaten developers writing software for GNU/Linux distributions running on general purpose computers has in theory been swept away. The Bilski ruling undoubtedly represents a breakthrough for free software and a success for our campaign, and with this ruling we are on the path to lowering the threats that institutions face when considering adopting free software.
Completely free distributions like the FSF-sponsored gNewSense are now viable, something that just a few years ago seemed far out of reach. Our work with SGI earlier this year means that 3D graphics acceleration can finally be achieved with free software and gNewSense.
The relaunch of our High Priority Projects list highlights that the proprietary software for which there is currently no free alternative and that users feel forced to use is dwindling and being tackled aggressively.
Hardware manufacturers friendly to free software have given us the first free software smartphone, the Neo FreeRunner. The OLPC project gave us the first free software laptop, the XO, that has quickly established the low-cost subnotebook marketplace -- where the economics have made GNU/Linux a popular choice. And for the past few months, FSF systems administrators have been working on the forthcoming free software friendly Lemote laptop, which Richard Stallman is using and that we hope will be widely commercially available. The availability of free software friendly hardware has never been greater.
The FSF has been campaigning for free and open formats and standards. Our free audio and video codecs campaign has been winning hearts and minds, and Mozilla's Firefox web browser will soon carry native support for Ogg, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to promote free codecs. Our campaign alongside many partners for OpenDocument Format (ODF) and against Microsoft's OOXML has been successful, with many countries adopting pro-ODF policies.
Stephen Fry in 'Happy Birthday to GNU'
We celebrated the 25th anniversary of the GNU Project this year with a breakthrough film from the English comedian Stephen Fry, who gave us an important reminder of the alternative vision for the technology we use, a vision where people don't trade freedom for convenience but instead support development of tools that create a better society. More than 1 million people have watched the film and it has been translated into 32 languages.
Combined, these breakthroughs are important because they give us an opportunity to put aside the claims of convenience that are used to promote the monopolists' pervasive tools, and ask important questions of our employer. Why are we using this proprietary software that locks us to this vendor when we could be using free software that would give us control? It gives us the chance to demand open government. Why is it, that my local government is forcing me to purchase one vendor's software to access public records, when there are free formats that we can use that work with free software? And why does this school accept corporate donations of proprietary software that come with handcuffs on my child's education, rather than use free software that will give my child the opportunity to be in control of the technology she learning to use?
Support us now in our big push to move these questions and more to the forefront in 2009 -- become a member or make a donation.
Peter T. Brown
Executive Director, Free Software Foundation
The GNU operating system is turning 25 this year, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has kicked off its month-long celebration of the anniversary by releasing "Happy Birthday to GNU," a short film featuring the English humorist, actor, novelist and filmmaker Stephen Fry.
In the five-minute film, Fry compares the free software operating system to "good science" and contrasts it with the "kind of tyranny" imposed by the proprietary software produced by companies like Microsoft and Apple that it replaces. He encourages people to use free GNU/Linux distributions like gNewSense (http://gnewsense.org) and free software generally, for freedom's sake.
"Stephen has generously donated his time to the cause of free software. His ability to communicate a technological and philosophical movement in terms of the basic principles of sharing and user freedom -- ideas that everyone can understand -- will introduce a new and broader audience to the benefits of free software," said Matt Lee, an FSF campaigns manager and writer/producer of the film.
The video is available for download at http://www.gnu.org, and the FSF is encouraging supporters to share it as widely as possible. Many have already posted an image of Fry linking back to the video on their blogs and web sites. The film will also be distributed as an update to gNewSense users.
Peter Brown, the FSF's executive director, added, "We intend for the 25th anniversary to be more than just a reflection on the history of the free software movement, because despite all of the success brought about by the GNU system and other free software projects, we still need a determined effort to replace or eliminate the proprietary applications, platforms, drivers and firmware that many users still run. In this light, the video of Stephen Fry is not just a celebration, but a rallying call for the work that still needs to be done. During September we plan a number of further announcements leading up to Software Freedom Day (http://softwarefreedomday.org/) on September 20 and the GNU anniversary on September 27."
Today over 300 software packages are released under the auspices of the GNU Project, and new programs are being added all the time. These programs range from the original core operating system components to more recent additions like Gnash, a free software answer to the threat posed by Adobe's proprietary Flash player plugin; and GNU PDF, a reader for PDF files. Outside of GNU, the Free Software Directory (http://directory.fsf.org) names over 5,000 additional free software projects, including Firefox-based web browsers, the Apache web server, and OpenOffice.org. Other well-known groups, like Wikipedia, Creative Commons, and the free culture movement, cite the GNU system and the free software philosophy as important inspirations for their decisions to make similar commitments to freedom in their respective areas.
Richard Stallman announced in September 1983 the plan to develop a free software Unix-like operating system called GNU. GNU is the only operating system developed specifically for the sake of users' freedom. See http://www.gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html.
In 1992, the essential components of GNU were complete, except for one, the kernel. When in 1992 the kernel Linux was re-released under the GNU GPL, making it free software, the combination of GNU and Linux formed a complete free operating system, which made it possible for the first time to run a PC without non-free software. This combination is the GNU/Linux system. For more explanation, see http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html.
About Free Software and Open Source
The free software movement's goal is freedom for computer users. Some, especially corporations, advocate a different viewpoint, known as "open source," which cites only practical goals such as making software powerful and reliable, focuses on development models, and avoids discussion of ethics and freedom. These two viewpoints are different at the deepest level. For more explanation, see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html.
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck
The iPhone is not a "phone" any more than my laptop computer is a phone. The iPhone can make phone calls, but so can my laptop. I could call your phone using my voice-over-IP system, and you wouldn't know the difference. I can even put a card in my laptop that enables communication over a cellular network.
The iPhone has a 412MHz processor, 128MB of RAM, wi-fi, bluetooth, and several gigabytes of storage. It has an operating system, and runs applications written in the same programming language that one can use to write programs for any OS X desktop system. The current list of applications available for the iPhone includes wiki software, an office suite, financial management programs, and of course an e-mail client and web browser.
Just because it fits in your pocket does not mean that it isn't a computer. As the specifications of the hardware and the diversity of available proprietary applications indicate, it's a general-purpose device. This is a simple case of applying the "duck test" -- If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.
Any resemblance to an "appliance" or "just a phone" is the result of artificial restrictions imposed by Apple via software. It is backwards to allow the severity of these restrictions, which limit what users can do with the device, to be used as justification for whitewashing ethical concerns that are intrinsic to general-purpose computers. These restrictions give Apple unprecedented and unjust control over iPhone users.
More than one bad apple in the bunch
For many years, we have been suffering from Microsoft's PC monopoly; a platform that has allowed Microsoft to inflict untold harm on computer users and the computing industry. The free software community has been working for many years to give people an opportunity to escape to GNU/Linux from Windows, but the iPhone would allow no such escape route. The Free Software Foundation will be treating this new proprietary platform as another threat to user and developer freedom, in the same way that we have worked to counter the threats posed by every other proprietary operating system, from Microsoft Windows in all its forms, to Apple's OS X and other proprietary Unix variants.
Of course, other "smartphones" are also general-purpose computers, and they also run proprietary operating systems. The FSF is directing attention to the iPhone at this moment in time for two main reasons. First, the recent release of iPhone 3G means that many people are contemplating a purchase, and won't get information about its restrictions from Apple's marketing machine. Second, there has been a great deal of confusion in both the free software and open source communities about whether it is possible to develop and distribute free software for the iPhone.
Free as in freedom, not beer
There are many "free as in beer" applications available for the iPhone portable computer. When we talk about whether "free software" can be written for it, we are not talking about this "gratis" kind of free. We mean free as in freedom, like free speech. Even when it doesn't cost money, software that is licensed under typical restrictive terms takes important freedoms away from users.
Some people lump this in with "open source", but distinguishing free software is important. The term "open source" puts the emphasis on access to a program's human-readable source code, but that is only one prerequisite for users to have freedom. Talking about free software means also talking about the freedoms to change, modify, and share the software. Having source code is useful, but if a user can't do anything with it, she is still squarely under Apple's thumb.
"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that...
In order for any program to be installed on the iPhone, the program must be cryptographically signed. When a user attempts to install software on her iPhone, the iPhone's Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) system checks to see if Apple considers the signature on the software to be valid. If there is no signature or if the signature is invalid, the iPhone will refuse to install the software. If the software has been modified in any way, the signature check will fail. The signature check is also tied to the user's specific device, which means that she is not permitted to transfer or copy downloaded programs directly between iPhones, and any other copying is permitted or not permitted at Apple's whim. This system of rejecting software that doesn't pass a signature check -- even when modifications to the software are legally permitted -- was made famous by TiVo, and so is called "tivoization".
Apple forces all programs distributed through the iTunes App Store to be signed in this way. It doesn't matter if the program doesn't cost any money or if its author actually wants its users to be able to copy and share it. Even worse, Apple says that the iTunes App Store is the only legitimate way for regular users to obtain and install iPhone software (there has been some confusion about this with regard to Apple's developer and ad hoc certificate systems which will be addressed by the next article in this series).
They claim that tivoization is necessary for "security". These specific claims will also be addressed in depth later in this series, but in the end their DRM system is simply a way of kicking away the ladder now that they have achieved a position of power. It's well-known that the kernel and many applications that ship with Apple's operating system are based on free software. They are happy to avail themselves of the freedom that free software provides when it suits them, but they don't want you to do the same. In fact, they argue that for you to do the same would be a threat.
Getting at the core of the issue
Authors who write free software intend for other users and developers to be able to make modifications to their work and to be able to share their work with others. Contrary to the dominant myth, there are many creators out there who actually want this. Like mathematicians building on the publicly available proofs and theorems of their predecessors, many of these programmers see freedom, openness and sharing as critical to the whole enterprise of software. The existence of the GNU/Linux operating system and such widely used programs as Firefox and OpenOffice.org proves both the reality and the merits of their approach -- these are programs whose authors want you to make and share as many copies as you like, either modified or unmodified.
The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a legal document that many such authors use to describe the terms under which they share their work with others. Whereas most software licenses -- the texts you usually have to agree to in order to install a new piece of software -- spell out a laundry list of restrictions, the GPL spells out permissions, under the basic "copyleft" umbrella principle of share and share alike. Any programmer can include a copy of the GPL along with her program to give a clear indication that she wants all of its users to have these permissions.
Programmers can often distribute software under the terms of the GPL even when that software is designed for use on proprietary operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Apple's OS X. So even if users are stuck with Windows, they can still use individual free software applications, and can obtain them from whatever store or web site they want. This has to date been as true on smartphones as it has been on other computers -- Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, and Blackberry phones, though still proprietary at their core, have permitted authors to write and distribute free software, and users to install it.
Apple, though, is pushing a tivoized model of software development and distribution -- a model enforced by a laundry list of restrictions that puts them in control as gatekeepers, threatening anyone who would challenge this control with jail time under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA says that if a person attempts to bypass "technological protection measures" (a horrible misnomer) like Apple's DRM, maybe by installing on a friend's phone an unsigned piece of software that she wrote, she has committed a crime.
Apple's approach runs headlong into an important part of the GPL's copyleft approach -- the principle that anytime someone shares a copy of a GPL-covered program with another person, she also needs to provide that person with the installable, human-readable source code for that program. This ensures that everyone who gets a copy of a program also gets the raw material needed for any study and modification. This freedom is not meaningful if the computer on which the software is meant to run arbitrarily rejects any potentially changed version installed by the user simply because it has not been signed or approved by a "higher" authority.
The latest version of the GPL (GPLv3) includes a provision to address the threat posed by this tivoization and put a stop to this method of depriving users of freedom. In Section 6, it says:
"Installation Information" for a User Product means any methods, procedures, authorization keys, or other information required to install and execute modified versions of a covered work in that User Product from a modified version of its Corresponding Source. The information must suffice to ensure that the continued functioning of the modified object code is in no case prevented or interfered with solely because modification has been made.
If you convey an object code work under this section in, or with, or specifically for use in, a User Product, and the conveying occurs as part of a transaction in which the right of possession and use of the User Product is transferred to the recipient in perpetuity or for a fixed term (regardless of how the transaction is characterized), the Corresponding Source conveyed under this section must be accompanied by the Installation Information.
In other words, users must be able to exercise their freedom to install and run modified versions of any GPLv3-covered program distributed on the iPhone. Systems that use cryptographic keys could be fine -- but the user needs to have access to any such keys along with the code.
However, in order to write software for the iPhone and have that software distributed, a developer has to agree to the Apple's iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (in addition to several other licenses). Section 5 of this agreement says:
You further represent and warrant to Apple that the licensing terms governing Your Application, or governing any third party code or FOSS included in Your Application, will be consistent with and not conflict with the digital signing or content protection aspects of the Program or any of the terms, conditions or requirements of the Program or this Agreement. In particular, such licensing terms will not purport to require Apple (or its agents) to disclose or make available any of the keys, authorization codes, methods, procedures, data or other information related to the Security Solution, digital signing or digital rights management mechanisms utilized as part of the Program.
These two licenses are incompatible. Apple's license says that to write and distribute software for the iPhone, developers have to agree that any freedom users should have to modify and share their software is secondary to the paramount requirement of observing and protecting Apple's DRM system.
This isn't a case of being picky about some legalese. There is a reason Apple doesn't want users to be able to install modified software on their portable computer, even if the software's creators want to encourage that -- they want to control what users do with their computers. For one example among countless potential "antifeatures", they do not want users or developers to be able to write or modify voice-over-IP applications to use the 3G cellular data network, because this use goes against their profit motive and the profit motives of their business partners.
Upsetting the apple cart
Apple's DRM software and the accompanying legal threats are in place to further their own interests by restricting the freedoms of computer users, while GPLv3 exists to protect those freedoms. If you are a software developer, please support free software by sharing your code under the terms of GPLv3. Even if you are not writing code specifically for the iPhone, use GPLv3 to ensure that no one else can subject it to the shackles of Apple's DRM.
In the world of mobile software development, we can and should focus our efforts on developing applications for the FreeRunner and other rapidly advancing smartphones that support and encourage user freedom. Even if we could find some legal loophole that would make free software possible on the iPhone, it would be better to contribute our efforts to platforms for which respecting user freedom and creativity is a founding principle.
If you are not a software developer, you can join us in writing to Steve Jobs at Apple (email@example.com) to let him know that we will not purchase or support the iPhone because it is incompatible with free software. CC us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you hear back from him, forward his reply to us.
Please help us cut through the haze of confusion and Apple marketing propaganda by sharing this and other articles in the series with your friends, family, collaborators and colleagues.
NPR station WBUR Boston adds support for free audio standard
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has marked a milestone in their PlayOgg.org campaign with the announcement that National Public Radio (NPR) news station WBUR Boston has begun worldwide webcasting in the free audio format Ogg Vorbis.
Robin Lubbock, WBUR's director of new media said, "WBUR has a great schedule of news and information programming 24 hours a day, which we are very happy to make available to Ogg Vorbis listeners. It's exciting to work with the Free Software Foundation to give a new audience the chance to listen to WBUR's award winning programing as well as the wonderful programs from NPR and the BBC Worldservice that you can find daily on WBUR."
Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF, responded to the news stating, "I would like to thank WBUR general manager Paul La Camera, for so graciously listening to the case we made for free audio standards. The leadership displayed by WBUR in providing a free audio format will help to bring this issue the national attention and recognition it deserves, and will serve as a vital step in educating the public and other publicly funded radio stations. We urge NPR listeners to stream WBUR's Ogg Vorbis stream, and to acknowledge and thank WBUR for this work when making your contributions."
Unlike MP3, Windows Media, Real Audio or Quicktime, Ogg Vorbis is not restricted by software patents. The threat of these patent lawsuits chills independent development of multimedia software tools. The use of unencumbered formats like Ogg Vorbis is necessary for providing access to publicly funded news and other programming without dependence on the patent-holding corporations and proprietary software vendors.
Patent-encumbered formats owned by companies like Microsoft and Apple require listeners to use non-free software; controlled by them, not by the users. They design their software to restrict the users and spy on their activities. If users choose Ogg Vorbis for audio and Ogg Theora for video, they can use many different media players, including free software designed to respect their freedom and privacy.
Joshua Gay, FSF campaigns manager explained the campaign, "[i]t is time for our publicly funded broadcasters to take seriously the impact their decisions to webcast only in proprietary formats have on the future of free unencumbered audio standards. Today, WBUR has made an important commitment to free standards, and we are now working with other publicly funded broadcasters to follow their example".
Microsoft tax evasion: Get gNewSense
The company Los Alamos Computers is now offering systems preinstalled with gNewSense, the fully free GNU/Linux operating system distribution.
We often get asked where people can buy complete systems with GNU/Linux preinstalled on them. People want to avoid paying the Microsoft tax, but they do want the convenience of their operating system already being installed and working with all the hardware they're paying for.
While large vendors like Dell and Lenovo have made commendable steps toward offering systems preinstalled with GNU/Linux, they have stopped short of offering fully free distributions as an option.
Fortunately, a smaller company has stepped up to fill this need. Los Alamos Computers is now offering laptops, desktops and servers preinstalled with gNewSense. Additionally, they are donating a portion of each sale of one of these systems to the FSF.
These systems are not yet available with a free BIOS, but LAC is very interested in making that happen, and we'll be doing what we can to help make that a reality.
We need more companies to follow in their footsteps. Please show your support for the steps they have made and continue encouraging other vendors to do the same!
You can do your shopping at http://laclinux.com/gnu, and drop them a note to say, "Thank GNU!"
Mozilla Europe's founder, Tristan Nitot, has no problem with free software. Indeed, his organization has created some of the best of it. But when software technologies like Adobe Systems' Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight are free but proprietary, they can create all sorts of problems. "Free" without "open" can become a one-way ticket to technology prison.
Adobe has recently taken steps to open up its Flash technology, but Nitot's concern is still valid:
He described the nature of the Web at the moment as open but suggested that "proprietary solutions running on top of the Web are trying to take over"..."So far, there has not been a problem," Nitot said. "Both Adobe and Microsoft have been willing to give (Flash and Silverlight away) for free. But maybe they have an agenda. They're not here for the glory; they're here for the money."
Nitot gave two historical examples of Microsoft and Adobe withdrawing or withholding products from certain platforms: Microsoft's discontinuation of Internet Explorer for Unix and Mac, and Adobe's long-standing refusal to "provide a recent version of Flash for Linux users." He suggested that Web developers should be asking those companies whether they are "sure that Silverlight and Flash will always be available on all platforms (and) run decently on all platforms."
It's a good point. Internet Explorer has done the industry a disservice by providing a one-way gate into Microsoft technologies. Indeed, this is consistent with Microsoft's history of requiring all of its technology to lead into Redmond--and rarely out.
There's one very easy way to resolve the tension: open source. Open standards are a nice start, but they provide no way to guarantee the future openness of a product. Only open source leaves the gate free to swing both in and out of a technology.
In short, open source is a good way to ensure that "free" doesn't come to mean "prison."
The gNewSense project today announced the release of DeltaH, the second version of their all free-software GNU/Linux distribution.
The DeltaH download web page states, "DeltaH was our second major release, based on Ubuntu Hardy. 2.0 was released on May 1st 2008 - less than a week after Hardy's release."
The gNewSense project dubs itself as "A free as in freedom GNU/Linux distribution, that takes all the non-free blobs out of a rather popular distribution."
In addition to stripping binary blobs from the kernel, the package and source trees contain only free software drivers, and do not offer access to any proprietary software. Because of this commitment to free
software, the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project recommend that users seeking to install a distribution of GNU/Linux consider installing gNewSense.
The developers of gNewSense invite those interested in discussing this latest release to join their mailing list or join them on irc.freenode.net in the #gnewsense channel.
Can we rescue OLPC from Windows? (Richard Stallman)
I read Negroponte's statement presenting the OLPC XO as a platform for Windows in the most ironic circumstances possible: during a week of preparing, under a deadline, to migrate personally to an XO.
I made this decision for one specific reason: freedom. The IBM T23s that I have used for many years are adequate in practice, and the system and applications running on them are entirely free software, but the BIOS is not. I want to use a laptop with a free software BIOS, and the XO is the only one.
The XO's usual software load is not 100% free; it has a non-free firmware program to run the wireless chip. That means I cannot fully promote the XO as it stands, but it was easy for me solve that problem for my own machine: I just deleted that file. That made the internal wireless chip inoperative, but I can do without it.
As always happens, problems arose, which delayed the migration until last week. On Friday, when I discussed some technical problems with the OLPC staff, we also discussed how to save the future of the project.
Some enthusiasts of the GNU/Linux system are extremely disappointed by the prospect that the XO, if it is a success, will not be a platform for the system they love. Those who have supported the OLPC project with their effort or their money may well feel betrayed. However, those concerns are dwarfed by what is at stake here: whether the XO is an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.
Since the OLPC was first announced we have envisioned it as a way to lead millions of children around the world to a life in which they do computing in freedom. The project announced its intention to give children a path to learn about computers by allowing them to study and tinker with the software. It may yet do that, but there is a danger that it will not. If most of the XOs that are actually used run Windows, the overall effect will be the opposite.
Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Its functioning is secret, so it is incompatible with the spirit of learning. Teaching children to use a proprietary (non-free) system such as Windows does not make the world a better place, because it puts them under the power of the system's developer -- perhaps permanently. You might as well introduce the children to an addictive drug. If the XO turns out to be a platform for spreading the use of proprietary software, its overall effect on the world will be negative.
It is also superfluous. The OLPC has already inspired other cheap computers; if the goal is only to make cheap computers available, the OLPC project has succeeded whether or not more XOs are built. So why build more XOs? Delivering freedom would be a good reason.
The project's decision is not final; the free software community must do everything possible to convince OLPC to continue being (aside from one firmware package) a force for freedom.
Part of what we can do is offer to help with the project's own free software. OLPC hoped for contribution from the community to its interface, Sugar, but this has not happened much. Partly that's because OLPC has not structured its development so as to reach out to the community for help -- which means, when viewed in constructive terms, that OLPC can obtain more contribution by starting to do this.
Sugar is free software, and contributing to it is a good thing to do. But don't forget the goal: helpful contributions are those that make Sugar better on free operating systems. Porting to Windows is permitted by the license, but it isn't a good thing to do.
I am typing these words on the XO. As I travel and speak in the coming weeks, I will point to it in my speeches to raise this issue.
John Thng Teng Xing informed the group today that he is stepping down as director to pursue his interest in a technical role. The group wishes John well for the future.
Koh Choon Lin would be taking over as Acting Controller with immediate effect.
Freedom—or Copyright? (Richard M. Stallman)
Copyright was established in the age of the printing press as an industrial regulation on the business of writing and publishing. Its purpose was to encourage the publication of a diversity of written works. Its means was to require the author's permission to publish recent writings. Ordinary readers received the benefit of increased writing, with little reason to complain: copyright restricted only publication, not the things a reader could do.
Well and good—back then.
Recently we developed a new way of distributing information: computers and networks. They facilitated copying and manipulating information, including software, musical recordings, books, and movies, and offered the possibility of unlimited access to all sorts of data—an information utopia.
One obstacle stood in the way: copyright. Readers and listeners who made use of their new ability to copy and share published information were technically copyright infringers. The same law which had formerly acted as a beneficial industrial regulation on publishers had become a restriction on the public it was meant to serve.
In a democracy, a law that prohibits a popular and useful activity is usually soon relaxed. Not so where corporations have political power. The publishers' lobby was determined to prevent the public from taking advantage of the power of their computers, and found copyright a suitable tool. Under their influence, rather than relaxing copyright rules to suit the new circumstances, governments made it stricter than ever, forbidding the act of sharing.
But that wasn't the worst of it. Computers can be powerful tools of domination when developers control the software that people run. The publishers realized that by publishing works in encrypted format, which only specially authorized software could view, they could gain unprecedented power: they could compel readers to pay, and identify themselves, every time they read a book, listen to a song, or watch a video.
The publishers gained US government support for their dream with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This law gave publishers power to write their own copyright rules, by implementing them in the code of the authorized player software. (This practice is called Digital Restrictions Management, or DRM.) Even reading or listening without authorization is forbidden.
We still have the same old freedoms in using paper books and other analog media. But if e-books replace printed books, those freedoms will not transfer. Imagine: no more used book stores; no more lending a book to your friend; no more borrowing one from the public library—no more “leaks” that might give someone a chance to read without paying. No more purchasing a book anonymously with cash—you can only buy an e-book with a credit card. That is the world the publishers want for us. If you buy the Amazon Kindle (we call it the Swindle) or the Sony Reader (we call it the Shreader for what it threatens to do to books), you pay to establish that world.
Public anger against DRM is slowly growing, held back because propaganda terms such as “protect authors” and “intellectual property” have convinced readers that their rights do not count. These terms implicitly assume that publishers deserve special power in the name of the authors, that we are morally obliged to bow to them, and that we have wronged someone if we read or listen to anything without paying.
The publishers tell us that a cruel War on Copying is the only way to keep art alive. Even if true, it would not justify such cruelty; but it isn't true. Public sharing of copies tends to increase the sales of most works, and decrease sales only for the most successful ten percent.
But bestsellers can still do well. Stephen King got hundreds of thousands of dollars selling an unencrypted e-book with no obstacle to copying and sharing. The singer Issa, a.k.a. Jane Siberry, asks people to choose their own prices when they download songs, and averages more per download than the usual $0.99. Radiohead made millions by inviting fans to copy an album and pay what they wished, while it was also shared through P2P.
Works that are used to do a practical job should be free, permitting even publication of modified versions, but that's a different issue.
When computer networks provide an easy anonymous method for sending someone a small amount of money, without a credit card, it will be easy to set up a much better system to support the arts. When you view a work, there will be a button you can press saying “Click here to send the artist one dollar”. Wouldn't you press it, at least once a week?
To make copyright fit the network age, we should legalize the noncommercial copying and sharing of all published works, and prohibit DRM. But until we win this battle, you must protect yourself: don't buy any products with DRM unless you personally have the means to break the DRM and make copies.
In the wake of the detection and reporting of Comcast Corporation's controversial interference with Internet traffic, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a comprehensive account of Comcast's packet-forging activities and has released software and documentation instructing Internet users on how to test for packet forgery or other forms of interference by their own ISPs.
Protocol-specific discrimination gives ISPs a tremendous amount of power over the kinds of new applications and services that can be deployed by innovators and competitors. To the extent that practices like those employed by Comcast change the "end-to-end" architecture of the Internet, those practices jeopardize the Internet's vibrant innovation economy.
"This recent interference by Comcast in their subscribers' Internet communications is a cause for grave concern," said EFF Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley. "It threatens the open Internet standards and architecture that have made the network such an engine of technical and economic innovation."
"This example of messing with network traffic by Comcast sets a dangerous precedent for all other ISPs around the world," said Singapore GNU Group's President Koh Choon Lin. "If the four ISPs in Singapore insist on not giving consumers accurate information about whether they are engaged in bandwidth throttling of their Internet traffic, we would have to start gathering data and find out for ourselves if they are indeed messing with Internet traffic using packet forgery techniques. We call upon members of the public having SingNet, Starhub Internet, Pacific Internet and MobileOne as their ISPs to participate with the group in this exercise."
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
With only a month left to the 234th anniversary of the Boston's Tea Party, we would like to express our concern over the encroachment and the retreat of human rights all over the world, emphasizing the need for freedom in all that we do, both online or offline. We the People must not let the mainstream media dictate what we do, what we think and what software to use in our daily lives.
The Singapore GNU Group would like to produce a guideline to the main political parties' positions on some of the issues facing Singapore today and in the near future. As such, we have compiled a list of 21 questions and sent them over to the leading opposition parties in Singapore. We hope, with the data gathered, we would be able to form an easy way for each and every Singaporeans to find out and identify themselves with the different bands of the political spectrum, either as a conservative or a liberal.
Due to the nature of the questions, the group requested only a YES/NO for each answer. The replies would be tabulated and benchmarked against the current administration of the People's Action Party. An example of what the group would be producing is shown below:
The 21 questions are as follows:
1. Would the party abolish conscription, ie. National Service?
2. Would the party abolish the Income Tax?
3. Would the party abolish the Central Provident Fund?
4. Would the party abolish the Ministry of Education?
5. Would the party abolish the need for a National ID, ie. National Registration Identity Card?
6. Would the party abolish compulsory public education, ie. making home schooling possible?
7. Would the party think, for some situations, abortions should be made illegal?
8. Would the party repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA)?
9. Would the party advocate a limited government, ie. "The best government is that which governs least"?
10. Would the party think it is sometimes necessary for the government to spy on its citizen without warrants?
11. Would the party advocate respect for private property in HDB flats, eg. renting the entire unit to anyone the owner desires?
12. Would the party advocate respect for freedom of speech, ie. public burning of Singapore flags?
13. Would the party abolish forced immunizations and vaccinations of Singaporeans against diseases?
14. Would the party advocate withdrawing from the United Nations?
15. Would the party abolish the need for estates duties?
16. Would the party abolish the death penalty?
17. Would the party repeal section 377A?
18. Would the party legalize all sex between consenting adults, ie. sex for money?
19. Would the party introduce gun ownership?
20. Would the party abolish the racial quotas for HDB estates?
21. Would the party abolish the laws for mandatory seatbelt, helmet and vehicle insurance?
Feel free to send us any enquires. You can contact the group at:
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
Mozilla has released its trademark Firefox browser as truly free software in an alternative build. The built is currently available for the Windows, Mac and GNU/Linux platform.
This build of Firefox 22.214.171.124 is compiled with branding, logos and the non-free add-on Talkback removed.
Overcoming Social Inertia (Richard Stallman)
15 years have passed since the combination of GNU and Linux first made it possible to use a PC in freedom. During that time, we have come a long way. You can even buy a laptop with GNU/Linux preinstalled from more than one hardware vendor, although the systems they ship are not entirely free software. So what holds us back from total success?
The main obstacle to the triumph of software freedom is social inertia. You have surely seen its many forms. Many commercial web sites are only accessible with Windows. The BBC's iPlayer handcuffware runs only on Windows. If you value short-term convenience instead of freedom, you might consider these reasons to use Windows. Most companies currently use Windows, so students who think short-term want to learn Windows, and ask schools to teach Windows, which they do, thus leading many other students to use Windows. Microsoft actively nurtures this inertia: it encourages schools to inculcate dependency on Windows, and contracts to set up web sites, which then turn out to work only with Internet Explorer.
A few years ago, Microsoft ads argued that Windows was cheaper to run than GNU/Linux. Their comparisons were debunked, but it is worth noting the deeper flaw that their arguments reduce to social inertia: “Currently, more technical people know Windows than GNU/Linux.” People that value their freedom would not give it up to save money, but many business executives believe ideologically that everything they possess, even their freedom, should be for sale.
Social inertia consists of people giving in to social inertia. When you give in to social inertia, you become part of it; when you resist it, you reduce it. We conquer inertia by identifying it, and resolving not to be part of it.
Here is where the philosophical weakness of most of our community holds us back. Most GNU/Linux users have never even heard the ideas of freedom that motivated the development of GNU, so they still judge matters based on short-term convenience rather than on their freedom. This makes them vulnerable to being led by the nose, through social inertia.
To change this, we need to talk about free software and freedom — not merely practical benefits such as cited by open source. Thus we can build our community's strength and resolve to overcome social inertia.
Computing “progress”: good and bad (Richard Stallman)
The BBC invited me to write an article for their column series, The Tech Lab, and this is what I sent them. (It refers to a couple of other articles published in that series.) But the BBC was unwilling to publish it with a copying permission notice, so I have published it here.
Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo proposed here that every object in our world should have a unique number, so that your cell phone can record everything you do — even which cans you pick up while in the supermarket.
If the phone is like today's phones, it will use proprietary software: software controlled by the companies that developed it, not by its users. Those companies will ensure that your phone makes the information it collects about you available to the phone company's data base (let's call it Big Brother) and probably to other companies.
In the UK of the future, as New Labour would have it, those companies will surely turn this information over to the police. If your phone reports you bought a wooden stick and a piece of poster board, the phone company's system will deduce that you may be planning a protest, and report you automatically to the police so they can accuse you of “terrorism”.
In the UK, it is literally an offence to be suspect. (More precisely, to possess any object in circumstances that create a “reasonable suspicion” that you might use them in certain criminal ways.) Your phone will give the police plenty of opportunities to suspect you, so they can charge you with having been suspected by them. Similar things will happen in China, where Yahoo already gave the government all the information it needed to imprison a dissident, and asked for our understanding on the excuse that it was “just following orders”.
Horowitz would like cell phones to tag information automatically based on knowing when you participate in an event or meeting. That means the phone company will also know precisely who you meet. That information will also be interesting to governments, such as those of the UK and China, that cut corners on human rights.
I do not much like Horowitz's vision of total surveillance. Rather, I envision a world in which our computers never collect, or release any information about us except when we want them to.
Non-free software does other nasty things besides spying. It often implements digital handcuffs — features designed to restrict the users (also called DRM, for Digital Restrictions Management). These features control how you can access, copy or move the files in your own computer.
DRM is a common practice: Microsoft does it, Apple does it, Google does it, even the BBC's iPlayer does it. Many countries, taking the side of these companies against the public, have made it illegal to tell others how to escape from the digital handcuffs. As a result, competition does nothing to check the practice: no matter how many proprietary alternatives you might have to choose from, they all handcuff you just the same. If the computer knows where you are located, it can make DRM even worse: there are companies that would like to restrict what you can access based on your present location.
My vision of the world is different. I would like to see a world in which all the software in our computers — in our desktop PCs, our laptops, our handhelds, our phones — is under the our control and respects our freedom. In other words, a world where all software is free software.
Free software, freedom-respecting software, means that every user of the program is free to get the program's source code and change the program to do what she wants, and also free to give away or sell copies, either exact or modified. This means the users are in control. With the users in control of the software, nobody has power to impose nasty features on others.
Even if you don't exercise this control yourself, you are part of a society where others do. If you are not a programmer, other users of the program are. They will probably find and remove any nasty features, such as spying or restricting you, and publish safe versions. You will have only to elect to use them — and since all other users will prefer them, that will usually happen with no effort on your part.
Charles Stross envisioned computers that permanently record everything that we see and hear. Those records could be very useful, as long as Big Brother doesn't see and hear all of them. Today's cell phones are already capable of listening to their users without informing them, at the request of the police, the phone company, or anyone that knows the requisite commands. As long as phones use non-free software, controlled by its developers and not by the users, we must expect this to get worse. Only free software enables computer-using citizens to resist totalitarian surveillance.
Dave Winer's article suggested that Mr Gates should send a copy of Windows Vista to Alpha Centauri. I understand the feeling, but sending just one won't solve our problem here on Earth. Windows is designed to spy on users and restrict them. We should collect all the copies of Windows, and MacOS and iPlayer for the same reason, and send them to Alpha Centauri at the slowest possible speed. Or just erase them.
Singapore GNU Group Applauds PacNet Resistance to Odex
But Broader Privacy Concerns Remain
Today, Odex lost the case in which they asked a district court in Singapore to force PacNet to turn over records for use as evidence where they are going after downloaders of their anime products. PacNet had refused to comply with a subpoena for those records, based in part on its concern for its users' privacy.
"Odex is overreaching here, asking PacNet to do its dirty work and provide information about the Internet activities of their users," said Singapore GNU Group's President Koh Choon Lin. "Today, the court rejected many of Odex's over broad discovery requests to its opposing parties. Rather than learn its lesson, Odex continues to push for overreaching discover by appealing to the higher court."
PacNet has cited its concern for user privacy as a reason for not complying with the subpoena, in addition to the unreasonable burden that compliance would place on them and the proprietary nature of its users' database. In particular, PacNet is rightly concerned that many of the information required would contain personal information about their users.
While the group applauds PacNet for defending its users' privacy in this case, this current controversy only highlights the broader privacy problem: All ISPs are logging all of your Internet activites, and most if not all of those activities are personally identifiable via cookies, IP addresses, and ISP's account information.
Koh continued, "The only way ISPs can reasonably protect the privacy of its users from such legal demands now and in the future is to stop collecting so much information about its users, delete information that it does collect as soon as possible, and take real steps to minimize how much of the information it collects is traceable back to individual users. If the ISPs continue to gather and keep so much information about its users, government and conglomerates will continue to try and get it." Koh urged all the ISPs in Singapore to erase their database records regularly. "'Perhaps they should consider whether it's worthwhile to keep all this information indefinitely," he said.
Importantly, users can also take steps to protect their privacy from the ISPs, the government, and others, by using anonymizing technologies such as Tor when surfing the web. Tor helps hide your IP address from your ISPs so that even if the lawyers come knocking, they cannot identify you by your web history.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
Odex had given interviews, issued press statements, etc.. repeating their misleading talking points -- that innovators are pirates, fair use is theft, the sky is falling, up is down, and so on. Their rhetoric should not be given a free pass. We had commented on this case previously.
To that end, the Singapore GNU Group has prepared a sample list of tough questions for times when you hear them or other entertainment industry representatives speaking and want to challenge their positions. Asking hard questions is a way of "keeping honest people honest" and revealing when they are actually being deceptive. Feel free to republish these and add your own questions.
1. Odex has sued so many of their anime fans for file sharing, yet file sharing continues to rapidly increase both online and offline. When will you stop suing your fans?
2. Odex has plans to sue, or have already sued, more than 5000 anime fans for sharing their products, who have paid or would be paying a $3,000 to $5,000 settlement to the company. That would be over $25,000,000. Has any money collected from your lawsuits gone to pay the actual producers in Japan? Where is all that money going?
3. The major movie studios have been enjoying some of their most profitable years in history over the past five years. Can you cite to any specific studies that prove noncommercial file sharing among fans, as opposed to commercial DVD piracy, has hurt the studios' bottom line in any significant way?
4. Is it illegal to make a back-up of an Odex anime DVD that I purchased? If yes, why is this illegal?
5. Is it ever legal for me to use software to rip a digital copy of an Odex anime DVD I own into my laptop? What if I want clips to use for a class report? Or if a teacher wants to include a clip in a PowerPoint slide?
A "Join the Odex Rebellion" movement had been started in an effort to spread the message of boycotting the company's products. We support all non-violence civil disobedience movements who do not resist any governmental forces. Two years ago, our friends in France turned themselves in voluntary to the Paris Police when they break the DRM from Apple Computer.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
Free Software Matters:
Software Keeps Music Free
Last month I spoke at the Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington, DC, where an unusually broad array of participants in all sides of the digital music controversy came together within shouting distance of the Congress. Most of what I had to say in my own public remarks concerned an issue primarily important in the US: the fate of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its prohibition on "circumvention'' of access control technology that prevents fair use of digital multimedia. The DMCA has had international effects, to be sure, including the prosecution of a Norwegian, Jon Johansen, for his involvement in helping to build a Linux-based DVD player, about which I have written in this space before. But the Summit made me think more about other, less local aspects of the relationship between free software and the transformation of multimedia content distribution, and about the death of the recording industry in particular.
Though predictions of the industry's demise by mere anarchists such as I were long ignored by the press and the industry itself, there are few observers left between the ages of 12 and 50 who don't understand that the tight oligopoly that calls itself "the music industry'' is in mortal trouble. As I have said here before, the industry's hope of building a leak-proof pipe from their studios to each listener's eardrum is an impossibility, because free software exists. No matter how tightly music is wrapped, no matter how many layers of strong encryption keep the music safe from unauthorized duplication in transit, eventually it must be unwrapped, turned back into raw audio data and sent to a soundcard or other device for eventually producing movement among air molecules. At that stage, when the operating system is invoked to perform soundcard I/O, unless the kernel of the PC, palmtop, portable digital music player or other data processor is fully trustworthy -- which means not under the control of its user -- the data could also be saved, duplicated, and sent anywhere else in the wired universe. Any free software kernel thus turns the computer on which it runs into a threat to the industry's favored business model.
So while the industry has been trying madly to make the concept of secure digital music work, they have been inherently on a collision course with the reality of free software, which ensured that SDMI could never fully work at all. Meanwhile, Napster has shown what those of us who don't believe in the utility of property rights in digital goods have theorized before: that anarchist distribution (which means uncontrolled sharing by anyone with anyone) is a more efficient and desirable way to distribute music. The oligarchs responded by lawsuits in the US designed to prohibit the development of a competing free distribution system, arguing that because such a system would inevitably be used for some infringing distribution of music "owned'' by the companies, it could not be permitted to exist, even if it could also be used as a distribution system by the millions of musicians all over the world who neither had nor wanted to have a recording industry contract. Shutting down Napster, thus offending its tens of millions of music-buying users, was their best idea.
But in recent months a few attempts at a more intelligent reponse have occurred among the dinosaurs. Bertelsmann -- not coincidentally the most recent megafirm to acquire a piece of the oligarchy -- has tried, if I may coin a phrase, to think different. Bertelsmann's settlement with Napster, which involved a large direct investment in the firm, has tried to domesticate the new distribution phenomenon. As Napster has repeatedly said, the intention is to charge a monthly subscription price to use its facilities for arranging peer-to-peer exchanges of music. The proceeds of that subscription fee (which if Napster could get its existing base of roughly 50 million users to pay £2.50 per month would amount to £1.5 billion per year) could then be used to buy license rights from the music industry. That would end the Napster wars, and perhaps even allow the industry to use Napster as a vehicle for distributing not MP3s, with their inconvenient open data format, but crippled secure music that could not be further copied.
From the industry point of view, that sounds pretty good. After all, Napster would be charging people for sharing data between their own computers, which means very little overhead, and the industry would be getting paid even when people were exchanging music they don't own. Almost ideal, in fact, for the five companies that presently control more than 90% of the world's music. But because of free software, this new strategy too will fail.
The problem is that while the dinosaurs were trying to eliminate Napster by suing a company, free software was being written to serve both client and server roles in the existing Napster protocol. Servers that comprise the OpenNap network can fulfill the required role presently played by the Napster middleman, while clients like Gnapster and audioGnome allow the user to switch from the official Napster server to the OpenNap net transparently. And in a peer-to-peer system, when the users switch, all the inventory shifts as well.
In preparation for the imposition of subscription charges, the most recent version of Napster's own client no longer permits its users to choose alternate servers. It's no-cost software, but it's not free: its users can't modify it to do what they want. So people are going to use the free clients instead, and then they're going to use the flexible free clients to switch to the open servers. Already I see many times of the day when OpenNap users have more music on offer than official Napster. When the subscription fee goes into force even a traditional economist can predict that all the rest of the users, and the music, will follow. Because of free software, the peer-to-peer systems cannot be rendered "unfree.''
Napster may give way to Gnutella, Freenet, or a protocol not yet implemented. But even the existing protocol, with which so many people all over the world are already familiar, cannot be taken private by Bertelsmann or anyone else. We shall soon see that Bertelsmann has wasted its money, taking Napster down with it. Music is going to be the first of the human arts that is fully freed from the efforts of "owners'' to reduce the supply in order to increase the price. As I said in Washington, "excluding people from music is a bad way to distribute music, and humanity now has a better one. All data that can be shared will be shared. Get used to it.'' That's freedom for musicians as much as for listeners, though the industry loves to pretend otherwise. And it's among the most important reasons why Free Software Matters.
On June 29, 2007, free software supporters gathered at the Free Software Foundation office in Boston, Massachusetts to hear Richard Stallman announce the official release of the GNU General Public License, version 3.
We've made a video available of this announcement. You can watch Stallman give an overview of the major changes in the license, and his reflections on the drafting process.
The video is Ogg Theora, and is about fifteen minutes long. Please download it from any of the following URLs:
Highest Quality (103MB): http://gplv3.fsf.org/static/release/rms_gplv3_launch_high_quality.ogg
Medium Quality (53MB): http://gplv3.fsf.org/static/release/rms_gplv3_launch.ogg
Low Quality (8MB): http://gplv3.fsf.org/static/release/rms_gplv3_launch_low_quality.ogg
The Singapore GNU Group's sister, ZEUUX Project, is now selling items pertaining to the free software movement, such as shirts and badges to raise funds for the rising free software community in the PRC. Wearing the shirts is a great way to spread awareness of the philosophy of free software to people who do not spend as much time on the Internet as some of us do. Interested friends can access the URL found below for more information.
Samples are available from the Singapore GNU Group. The delivery time is 4 days.
The iPhone will be a walled garden.
So Apple announced the iPhone on Tuesday. It looks beautiful with its big screen, and it sounds exciting - both from a user interface perspective (those multi-finger touchscreen commands sound fascinating) as from a technology perspective: it runs (a stripped down version of) Mac OS X, which implies that the hardware is quite powerful and versatile.
In an interview with Newsweek, Steve Jobs made some very disturbing comments about how 'open' the device will be:
“You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider's network, says Jobs. “You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up.”
This is complete nonsense. There's this other network out there called the internet. People install '3rd party software' on the machines that are hooked up to it all the time. And guess what - the West Coast part of the Internet doesn't crash and burn every other day. I wonder why that is, if '3rd party software' is oh so dangerous.
Also, this quote is particularly disturbing coming from Jobs - a large chunk of Mac OS X is 3rd party software. The kernel was derived from BSD, which was not written by Apple. BSD is all about openness. It pains me to see that codebase used to build a completely crippled and closed environment. With software under the GPL, this would not have been possible...
I suppose the community will have to start working on a port of an entirely Free operating system to the iPhone before it will be useful. Given the existance of Rockbox, that hopefully won't take too long.
In the mean time, it's probably a good idea to let Steve Jobs know that we want telephones that are more open and that support Free Software better than what exists currently, not yet another walled garden. Be polite but firm - there is a rumor that he actually reads and responds to e-mail coming from @gnu.org addresses...
Free Software Foundation
The Singapore GNU Group is pleased to announce the list of the first 30 free software which have been relicensed under the newest version of the GNU GPL, i.e. version 3. They can be found below.
sed, lightning, Shishi, GSSLib, AROUNDMe, hello, cflow, cpio, Mailutils, Radius, tar, ed, ddrescue, Ocrad, Moe, Gama, Textinfo, inetutils, Source Installer, Xnee, MARST, jwhois, sharutils, libmatheval, GLPK, GLOBAL, GnuPG, Sather, fdisk, m4.
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA—Friday, June 29, 2007—The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today released version 3 of the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), the world's most popular free software license.
“Since we founded the free software movement, over 23 years ago, the free software community has developed thousands of useful programs that respect the user's freedom. The programs are in the GNU/Linux operating system, as well as personal computers, telephones, Internet servers, and more. Most of these programs use the GNU GPL to guarantee every user the freedom to run, study, adapt, improve, and redistribute the program,” said Richard Stallman, founder and president of the FSF.
Version 3 of the GNU GPL strengthens this guarantee, by ensuring that users can modify the free software on their personal and household devices, and granting patent licenses to every user. It also extends compatibility with other free software licenses and increases international uniformity.
Jeremy Allison, speaking on behalf of the Samba team, states that they see the new license as “a great improvement on the older GPL,” and that it is “a necessary update to deal with the new threats to free software that have emerged since version 2 of the GPL.”
The warm embrace of much of the community should come as no surprise, for the license is the final result of an unprecedented drafting process that has seen four published drafts in eighteen months. These were the basis for a discussion that included thousands of comments from the public. This feedback, along with input from committees representing the public and private sectors, and legal advice from the Software Freedom Law Center, was used in writing the text of GPL version 3.
“By hearing from so many different groups in a public drafting process, we have been able to write a license that successfully addresses a broad spectrum of concerns. But even more importantly, these different groups have had an opportunity to find common ground on important issues facing the free software community today, such as patents, tivoization, and Treacherous Computing,” said the Foundation's executive director, Peter Brown.
Tivoization and Treacherous (aka, “Trusted”) Computing are schemes to prevent users from utilizing modified or alternate software. The former simply blocks modified software from running; the latter enables web sites to refuse to talk to modified software. Both are typically used to impose malicious features such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). GPL version 3 does not restrict the features of a program; in particular, it does not prohibit DRM. However, it prohibits the use of tivoization and Treacherous Computing to stop users from changing the software. Thus, they are free to remove whatever features they may dislike.
Karl Berry, long-time GNU developer and Texinfo maintainer, believes that “the GPL is the fundamental license that ties the free software community together, and version 3 does an excellent job of updating the license to the present-day computing reality.” Elated by the new patent clause, he bemoans software patents as “a scourge on our cooperative efforts.”
Over fifteen GNU programs will be released under the new license today, and the entire GNU Project will follow suit in the coming months. The FSF will also encourage adoption of the license through education and outreach programs. “A lot of time and effort went into this license. Now free programs must adopt it so as to offer their users its stronger protection for their freedom,” Stallman said.
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Thursday, June 28, 2007 -- On Friday, June 29, not everyone in the continental U.S. will be waiting in line to purchase a $500 iPhone. In fact, hundreds of thousands of digital aficionados around the globe won't be standing in line at all, for June 29 marks the release of version 3 of the GNU General Public License (GPL). Version 2 of the GPL governs the world's largest body of free software -- software that is radically reshaping the industry and threatening the proprietary technology model represented by the iPhone.
The author of the the GPL is Professor Richard M. Stallman, president and founder of the Free Software Foundation, and creator of the GNU Project. With his first revision of the license in sixteen years, version 3 of the GPL fights the most recent attempts to take the freedom out of free software -- most notably, version 3 attacks "Tivoization" -- and that could be a problem for Apple and the iPhone.
Now, from China to India, from Venezuela to Brazil, from Tivos to cell phones: Free software is everywhere and it is slowly building a worldwide movement of users demanding that they have control over the computers and electronic devices they own.
Tivoization and the iPhone?
"Tivoization" is a term coined by the FSF to describe devices that are built with free software, but that use technical measures to prevent the user from making modifications to the software -- a fundamental freedom for free software users -- and an attack on free software that the GPLv3 will put a stop to.
The iPhone is leaving people questioning: Does it contain GPLed software? What impact will the GPLv3 have on the long-term prospects for devices like the iPhone that are built to keep their owners frustrated?
Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF said, "Tomorrow, Steve Jobs and Apple release a product crippled with proprietary software and digital restrictions: crippled, because a device that isn't under the control of its owner works against the interests of its owner. We know that Apple has built its operating system, OS X, and its web browser Safari, using GPL-covered work -- it will be interesting to see to what extent the iPhone uses GPLed software."
The GNU GPL version 3 will be released at 12:00pm (EDT) -- six hours before the release of the iPhone -- bringing to a close eighteen months of public outreach and comment, in revision of the world's most popular free software license.
(Mailing List) Re: Should we start calling this OS GNU/Linux?
Q: Is it to the open source community benefit to call the system as GNU/Linux?
A: Thanks for alerting me to the discussion, though I must affirm my position as working for the free software movement, not the open source movement.
This question has been repeated over and over in numerous battles between hackers. Free software advocates have always held a firm line on software freedom for precisely the thoughts which were expressed there. I would not be surprised if this topic joins the famous wars like vi vs emacs, gnome vs kde, etc.. one day.
To be sure, when I saw the resulting comments, I was not surprised by the hostility as shown. I guess that as more and more people use the GNU system, we would be seeing a greater proportion of comments from people who naturally have little idea about the history of the GNU Project, why it exists and where it is heading.
The free software movement and the open source movement are just two sides of a global community. In the free software movement, the goal is to live an ethical life where we can cooperate with other people. We point to the ethical and political values defining free software to encourage others to join us. The open source movement denounces those ideals and values. They cite only practical values -- such as developing powerful software, and this is the same goal that Microsoft strives for in their efforts to promote non-free software. The open source movement disagrees with Microsoft only in regard to how to best achieve it.
Normally, people who describe the system as Linux are those from the open source community. And very likely, they have never heard of the philosophy behind the GNU Project (its origin and purpose). The Project's intention of creating a completely free operating system has now been perverted until it is unrecognizable -- prominent cases include the kernel Linux and the GNU distribution Ubuntu, all done in the name of business and popularity (aka free software vs non-free software and may the best code win). There are only a few distributions that we now recommend, such as gNewSense and BLAG.
Calling the system as GNU, or free software rather than open source, would make Microsoft's job of creating FUD a much more difficult task. Right now, their FUD is concentrated on attacking the open source community -- where they could actually compete based on the latter's focus on producing powerful software. If the system is to be referred to as GNU or free software, people would begin to realize the rationale behind software freedom as they become curious about GNU and Microsoft definitely would not be able to compete with free software and the message it carries. Freedom is a positive message, not a negative message.
Computer users in the 70s and early 80s did not have freedom because they did not care enough about it -- until the GNU Project came along. Everybody collaborated in the spirit of the freedom message (GPL) and the community gained our liberty in 1992 when Linus's work carried us across the finishing line. It was the first time in history that one could use a computer in freedom.
The free software community in Singapore is currently at its infancy stage -- an entire generation of Singaporeans had grew up thinking it is actually normal to be denied basic rights and freedom when they relate to software. If this situation continues to degrade further, within five or ten years time we would be in serious trouble. The GNU operating system formulated out of the rise of visionaries over those who valued the practical benefits like convenience and reliability. The latter traded away channels of collaboration for a restrictive environment where third parties could dictate the terms of collaboration and their use of the software. And now, those pragmatists have inherited GNU and they are destined to lose it.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
After the success of both DefectiveByDesign and BadVista campaigns carried out against Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, the Singapore GNU Group is currently planning to launch its first global campaign to deliver its message about free software to social activists outside the technical communities. "Software is not just an issue of technicality, but more importantly, it touches on the moral and ethical aspects," says Koh Choon Lin, Executive Director of the Singapore GNU Group.
The campaign, "Stop Betraying Your Friends", Choon Lin says, will be a simple one -- calculated to change the public's perception of non-free software and draw them to free software like gNewSense.
"When you buy a copy of Microsoft Windows, you have to promise not to share it with your friends and this is an act of betrayal, an act of hostility towards them," Choon Lin says. "We are working to ensure that software is given the same freedoms that people enjoy whenever they use recipes and other types of functional information. Imagine how you would feel if you were told, starting from today, that you cannot change or copy a recipe and if you did, you would be called a pirate and put into prison for years."
"As we see the rising usage of more and more non-free software like Google Earth in our daily lives, we are now at a crucial crossroad. To use these software, users must either agree to betray their friends by not helping them, or pretend to agree to comply with the license and then breach the copyright. Both actions undermine the social solidarity of our community and this is a real divisive harm done by non-free software."
He encourages anyone who is willing to help with the campaign, or knows of magazines or organizations to target, to contact the group with their suggestions.
In additional, Choon Lin warns against taking the position of the open source movement which might make winning the support of the community easier, "There are lots of people who preach about the virtues of free software based solely on its practical benefits, like being powerful and having no license costs. You can persuade many people by this shallow way but you lose the chance to gain deeper support from them."
Speaking of the current state of the community, he added, "The philosophies of both the free software movement and the open source movement coincide only at the practical level -- otherwise they are completely different. The former is a socio-political movement while the latter is a technical movement."
"The goals of the free software movement have mainly been kept silent from the community. In fact, even awareness of the freedom message is unknown among users of the GNU system -- most have never heard of the philosophy of GNU. The best known free software which is commonly combined with GNU, the kernel Linux, now contains plenty of binary-only firmware and if we continue to ignore this, we ignore it at our own risk. This has effectively resulted in misinformation of the ideas behind the system's origin, history and purpose to millions and millions of GNU users around the world and the goal of having a completely free operating system has been not just forgotten but almost totally cancelled."
Why Upgrade to GPL Version 3
Version 3 of the GNU General Public License will soon be finished, enabling free software packages to upgrade from GPL version 2. This article explains why upgrading the license is important.
First of all, it is important to note that upgrading is a choice. GPL version 2 will remain a valid license, and no disaster will happen if some programs remain under GPLv2 while others advance to GPLv3. These two licenses are incompatible, but that isn't a serious problem.
When we say that GPLv2 and GPLv3 are incompatible, it means there is no legal way to combine code under GPLv2 with code under GPLv3 in a single program. This is because both GPLv2 and GPLv3 are copyleft licenses: each of them says, “If you include code under this license in a larger program, the larger program must be under this license too.” There is no way to make them compatible. We could add a GPLv2-compatibility clause to GPLv3, but it wouldn't do the job, because GPLv2 would need a similar clause.
Fortunately, license incompatibility only matters when you want to link, merge or combine code from two different programs into a single program. There is no problem in having GPLv3-covered and GPLv2-covered programs side by side in an operating system. For instance, the TeX license and the Apache license are incompatible with GPLv2, but that doesn't stop us from running TeX and Apache in the same system with Linux, Bash and GCC. This is because they are all separate programs. Likewise, if Bash and GCC move to GPLv3, while Linux remains under GPLv2, there is no conflict.
Keeping a program under GPLv2 won't create problems. The reason to migrate is because of the existing problems which GPLv3 will address.
One major danger that GPLv3 will block is tivoization. Tivoization means computers (called “appliances”) contain GPL-covered software that you can't change, because the appliance shuts down if it detects modified software. The usual motive for tivoization is that the software has features the manufacturer thinks lots of people won't like. The manufacturers of these computers take advantage of the freedom that free software provides, but they don't let you do likewise.
Some argue that competition between appliances in a free market should suffice to keep nasty features to a low level. Perhaps competition alone would avoid arbitrary, pointless misfeatures like “Must shut down between 1pm and 5pm every Tuesday”, but even so, a choice of masters isn't freedom. Freedom means you control what your software does, not merely that you can beg or threaten someone else who decides for you.
In the crucial area of Digital Restrictions Management—nasty features designed to restrict your use of the data in your computer—competition is no help, because relevant competition is forbidden. Under the Digital Millenuium Copyright Act and similar laws, it is illegal, in the US and many other countries, to distribute DVD players unless they restrict the user according to the official rules of the DVD conspiracy (its web site is http://www.dvdcca.org/, but the rules do not seem to be published there). The public can't reject DRM by buying non-DRM players, because none are available. No matter how many products you can choose from, they all have equivalent digital handcuffs.
GPLv3 ensures you are free to remove the handcuffs. It doesn't forbid DRM, or any kind of feature. It places no limits on the substantive functionality you can add to a program, or remove from it. Rather, it makes sure that you are just as free to remove nasty features as the distributor of your copy was to add them. Tivoization is the way they deny you that freedom; to protect your freedom, GPLv3 forbids tivoization.
The ban on tivoization applies to any product whose use by consumers, even occasionally, is to be expected. GPLv3 tolerates tivoization only for products that are almost exclusively meant for businesses and organizations. (The latest draft of GPLv3 states this criterion explicitly.)
Another threat that GPLv3 resists is that of patent deals like the Novell-Microsoft deal. Microsoft wants to use its thousands of patents to make GNU/Linux users pay Microsoft for the privilege, and made this deal to try to get that. The deal offers Novell's customers rather limited protection from Microsoft patents.
Microsoft made a few mistakes in the Novell-Microsoft deal, and GPLv3 is designed to turn them against Microsoft, extending that limited patent protection to the whole community. In order to take advantage of this, programs need to use GPLv3.
Microsoft's lawyers are not stupid, and next time they may manage to avoid those mistakes. GPLv3 therefore says they don't get a “next time”. Releasing a program under GPL version 3 protects it from Microsoft's future attempts to make redistributors collect Microsoft royalties from the program's users.
GPLv3 also provides for explicit patent protection of the users from the program's contributors and redistributors. With GPLv2, users rely on an implicit patent license to make sure that the company which provided them a copy won't sue them, or the people they redistribute copies to, for patent infringement.
The explicit patent license in GPLv3 does not go as far as we might have liked. Ideally, we would make everyone who redistributes GPL-covered code surrender all software patents, along with everyone who does not redistribute GPL-covered code. Software patents are a vicious and absurd system that puts all software developers in danger of being sued by companies they have never heard of, as well as by all the megacorporations in the field. Large programs typically combine thousands of ideas, so it is no surprise if they implement ideas covered by hundreds of patents. Megacorporations collect thousands of patents, and use those patents to bully smaller developers. Patents already obstruct free software development.
The only way to make software development safe is to abolish software patents, and we aim to achieve this some day. But we cannot do this through a software license. Any program, free or not, can be killed by a software patent in the hands of an unrelated party, and the program's license cannot prevent that. Only court decisions or changes in patent law can make software development safe from patents. If we tried to do this with GPLv3, it would fail.
Therefore, GPLv3 seeks to limit and channel the danger. In particular, we have tried to save free software from a fate worse than death: to be made effectively proprietary, through patents. The explicit patent license of GPLv3 makes sure companies that use the GPL to give users the four freedoms cannot turn around and use their patents to tell some users “That doesn't include you.” It also stops them from colluding with other patent holders to do this.
Further advantages of GPLv3 include better internationalization, gentler termination, support for BitTorrent, and compatibility with the Apache license. (For full information, see gplv3.fsf.org.) All in all, plenty of reason to upgrade.
Change is unlikely to cease once GPLv3 is released. If new threats to users' freedom develop, we will have to develop GPL version 4. It is important to make sure that programs will have no trouble upgrading to GPLv4 when the time comes.
One way to do this is to release a program under “GPL version 3 or any later version”. Another way is for all the contributors to a program to state a proxy who can decide on upgrading to future GPL versions. The third way is for all the contributors to assign copyright to one designated copyright holder, who will be in a position to upgrade the license version. One way or another, programs should provide this flexibility for the future.
Copyright 2007 Richard Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.
The Singapore GNU Group would like to express concerns over the recent case of ODEX PTD LTD, who is representing several Japanese animation licensors and authorized by the Anti Video Piracy Association (Singapore), taking action against individuals who had been found downloading titles from the Internet using BitTorrent technology. While we remain committed in following the rule of law, we would like to share our dismay over two fundamental issues.
The first issue is the lack of constitutional protection for citizens' rights to privacy. ODEX, without having to go through the judicial process or obtaining a subpoena, could trace the offending Internet Protocol (IP) address to the person's home address. (We note that the entire process was lawful.) This could not be done without the help from the Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Singapore and we are alarmed that the individuals have no prior knowledge that their personal data were being released by their ISPs.
The Singapore GNU Group repeats our stand that we want constitutional and statutory protection for the citizens' right to privacy. The incumbent Government has performed superbly in many areas pertaining to Singaporeans' increased prosperity and safety and we hope that our country, under the leadership of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, can progress further to prepare for the coming Internet revolution or Web 2.0. Every citizen must be guaranteed the right to anonymity and the right to control the use of all his or her personal data. We note that democracy presupposes a strong protection for citizen's rights.
The group reiterates that the most important factor is that our rights as citizens are not to be violated to serve the interests of producers of content. Today, any private digital communication can include information which is placed under a copyright. We can send, in an instance, a MP3 song to a friend through email, or in a few hours, a digital copy of a DVD quality film. This can be sent over the same channels as any other private communication that should be illegal to intercept.
In order to enforce copyrights the way they have traditionally been enforced, the Government would need to monitor all communication, both public and private, and it is this privacy factor that we are most deeply concerned about.
The second issue is the current legislation that govern the copyright system. We claim that the present system is way out of balance in encouraging acts of creation, development and spreading cultural expressions. We feel that the widespread and systematic abuses of today's copyright laws are actively counterproductive to the original intent of copyright by limiting both the creation of, and access to, our culture.
When copyrights were originally created, they only serve to regulate the right of a creator to be recognized as the creator. It has later been expanded to cover commercial copying of works as well as also limiting the natural rights of private citizens and non-profit organizations. We say that this shift of balance has prompted an unacceptable development for all of society. Economic and technological developments have pushed copyright laws way out of balance and instead it infers unjust advantages for a few large market players at the expense of consumers, creators and society at large. Millions of classical songs, movies and books are now held hostages in the vaults of huge media corporations, not wanted enough by their focus groups to republish but potentially too profitable to release. We want to free our cultural heritage and make them accessible to all, before time withers away the celluloid of the old movie reels. Immaterial laws are a way to legislate material properties for immaterial values. Ideas, knowledge and information are by nature non-exclusive and their common value lies in their inherent ability to be shared and spread. We say that copyrights need to be restored to their origins. Laws must be altered to regulate only commercial use and copying of protected works. To share copies, or otherwise spread or use works for non-profit uses, must never be illegal since such fair use benefits all of society.
To be clear, we only support non-commercial copying, not commercial copying. We do not support market dealers who reproduce and sell creative works in CD/DVD -- they are neither a benefit to the consumer or the author. We believe the authors should still have right to be the sole commercial benefactor of their work for a limited length of time after the creation of their work, they should be the only party able to sell it, and that is an important distinction. We strongly believe that commercial distribution of film and media can thrive side by side with peer to peer file sharing.
The architecture of the Internet is to design a system that is capable of sharing information. More than seventy percent of the current Internet traffic translate into copyright violations and this presents us at a crucial cross road which we have to decide which way to go. The current copyright system is a contradiction of what the Internet is designed to be. Industries that own data on exclusionary terms are now attempting to prevent the Internet from working, because the Internet enables one to share data and their goal is to prevent people from sharing data. The result is that the owners of network technology are being pressured to put in place a network which does not share data efficiently -- such as the use of bandwidth throttling among the three local ISPs.
The Singapore GNU Group appreciates any comments on our views and we stand ready to work with the Government to further contribute to revising the current legislation to respond to the comments set forth above. We look forward to engage fully and collaboratively with the Government to promote the production and accessibility of creative works in this digital age.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
The final update on the event tomorrow. Below are the details:
Event: DefectiveByDesign Campaign To Eliminate DRM
Date: May 31, 2007 (1030 UTC+0800)
Participants: Open to everyone from all walks of life. Bring a yellow raincoat or T shirt along.
Objectives: To highlight the presence of DRM in our daily lives.
Itinerary: Assembly at City Hall SMRT subway and proceed, at 1100, to Suntec. The Singapore GNU Group would be stationed right at the control station where you would be tapping your EZ Link card. You can identity us with our DefectiveDyDesign posters.
As this is an official event for the Singapore GNU Group, we have prepared some guidelines for activists to make it safe, fun and successful. We are not looking to get arrested or cause confrontations.
1. This is not a protest. We are not protesting but promoting the information about the dangers of DRM and Microsoft/Apple's defective products.
2. If you are stopped by the security or police, introduce yourself to them if neccessary. You can tell your name if you feel comfortable and identify yourself as being from the Singapore GNU Group.
3. Never block entrances or sidewalk -- this is the number one way to cause a confrontation with the security. Keep a clear path on the sidewalk.
4. The PC Show in Suntec are in malls, which are private property. Security can ask us to leave. For this reason, we need to move quickly to have an impact and capture good images.
5. Our goal is to capture pictures and to give customers and passersby time to take pictures on their handphones or with their digital cameras.
The Singapore GNU Group would like photographers to cover its campaign against Digital Rights Management (DRM), pro bono, held on the first day of the PC Show, May 31 2007.
Examples of photos needed are found below:
If you are interested, please contact the Singapore GNU Group at:
If there is a need to maintain copyrights over the photographs taken, we request for them to be dual licensed, with one placed under a share-alike license, such as the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike.
Dear fellow Singaporeans
The Singapore GNU Group has been campaigning against Digital Rights Management (DRM), alongside with the DefectiveByDesign campaign, since last year. During these period of time, consumer and media awareness of this restrictive technology has increased and consumers have largely turned against it. Even the music industry is contemplating dropping it, with Amazon and EMI leading the way. Yet even against the growing anti-DRM chorus, companies like Microsoft and Apple are promoting their proprietary software which, aside from some new bells and whistles, and an increase in base hardware requirements, is largely a platform for DRM, designed to serve big media companies more than individual computer users.
In an effort to hide the truth, these companies are hiring models and famous TV personalities to help everyone forget just what these companies plan next. The good news is that computer users do not need to take this bitter pill anymore. There are now plenty of free software alternatives available that are more secure than what Microsoft and Apple have to offer and they respect user's rights and freedom.
The upcoming PC Show is turning 17 next week and we want you to be part of the party by reminding the participating companies about computing freedom. Let them know that technologists refuse to accept the DRM imposed on users. Join the Singapore GNU Group at the launch of the show at Suntec City on May 31, 2007. We would be turning up to warn consumers about the daylight theft of our computing freedom, especially the way DRM is robbing us. The group would be organizing actions throughout the entire show to coincide with the sold DRM laden products. Meet with other members who are involved in the campaign to eliminate DRM and take pictures of the event.
We remain committed to raising awareness of the DRM's threats to consumers and privacy rights through lawful forms of direct actions. We urge all software freedom activist to obey the Singapore legislation and respect the regulation of the PC Show.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
The Singapore GNU Group is pleased to announce that on May 17, 2007, John Thng Teng Xing was elected to the group's Board of Directors. He is based in Singapore, and has been an exponent for the ideas about freedom in the digital age since 2003.
John has been a strong supporter of software freedom, spending years educating the public about the important issues of freedom in the digital age by participating on numerous local based web forums.
John mentioned briefly about his plan for the group: "The strategy is mainly twofold. First, it is essential to build awareness and support the use of GNU software usage in Singapore, whether it is in commercial areas or non-commercial areas. Second, it is to unite and support all groups that are directly or indirectly supportive of GNU as there is a lack of volunteers, mainly in the group and in other groups around the globe as well."
Koh Choon Lin, Singapore GNU Group Executive Director, said: "With the growing utilization of computers by people all around the world, whether it is to watch an online video or access Internet Banking, it is of paramount importance that computer users know of their basic rights -- to be able to control their own computing. This has always been the goal of the free software movement and I am glad that John has joined the group in calling for reforms to demand these rights."
The Singapore GNU Group welcomes John to the Board and we are proud that the most prominent person on the local web forums supporting the free software movement now serve as an executive director of the group.
Asked about the challenges ahead, John said: "We have to convey the philosophy of GNU software out. Many people in Singapore are unaware of what an EULA is, or don't even look upon the EULA when they install a software. Also, without doubt, free software is facing a lot of attacks from non-free software users. We need to correct this point with the GNU philosophy. It is hard to convince people without any GNU philosophy involved. In addition, a lot of people in Singapore are confused about free software and freeware. Some classified free software as freeware, but it is not the case, and it means great differences. I appeal for more free software supporters to step forward to help us spread the message."
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
The OpenNet Initiative has updated their results on Internet Censorship after the announcement made by their director a few months ago. The findings includes the profile of Singapore, which the institution concludes as follows:
The Singapore government implements a limited filtering regime, relying mainly on non technological measures to curb online commentary and content relating to political, religious, and ethnic issues. The purported purpose of these measures is “to promote and facilitate the growth of the Internet while at the same time safeguarding social values and racial and religious harmony." The threats of lawsuits, fines, and criminal prosecution inhibit more open discourse in an otherwise vibrant Internet community.
More findings about the Internet censorship situation in Singapore can be found at their website.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced the creation of a new activist campaigns team to organize public support into action on software freedom issues. They will work together on the FSF campaigns BadVista.org and DefectiveByDesign.org, and launch additional campaigns in the near future. On its first day, a new campaign, Play OGG, designed to promote the usage of the patent free and license free audio format OGG Vorbis is launched by the FSF to combat the rising usage of the patented MP3 format found in mainstream music.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Singapore GNU Group is pleased to announce that the free software community in the People's Republic of China (PRC) has launched a free software group, ZEUUX, that is solely committed to promoting the ideals of the free software movement. It is founded by Bill Xu, a long time advocate for software freedom and a strong opponent against the use of proprietary plugin (ActiveX) as a prerequisite for China Merchants Bank's online banking service. The new group would no doubt accelerate the growth of the GNU/Linux operating system in the PRC with their own soon to be released GNU/Linux distribution and by providing a comprehensive set of services for activists to gather at their website.
Today, the Singapore GNU Group officially formed an affiliation with the group and we would work closely with them, together with the international free software community, in pushing for reforms for software freedom.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
Following numerous letters (including one from Presidential hopeful Barack Obama) to the Democratic National Committee stating their stand on copyright and requesting the Presidential debates to be placed either under public domain or the Creative Commons (Attribution) license, the Singapore GNU Group took a look into the latest paper from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) -- A Nation Cheated. In order to ascertain the free-ness of the paper, we prepared a list of questions and sent it to the SDP:
- Does the paper bought from the SDP contain any form of DRM? Are there serial numbers embedded to identify each copy bought from the SDP?
- What file format is the paper available in (.DOC, .ODT, .PDF, etc..)?
- What license (copyright) is the paper under? Can I buy a copy and make multiple copies to share with (or even sell to) my friends?
- If there are restrictions about its distribution, will the paper ever be released freely to the public?
We received the following reply from the SDP:
The paper is now available in the PDF format, with no serial numbers embedded. Thus, each copy of the paper would be identical (bit-wise). There is currently no restriction on how the paper may be distributed.
While the paper is still far from being defined as truly free, with no licensing at all, we would like to highlight the fact that we are able to make copies and distribute the paper in an ethical way, even though the terms and conditions could possibly change in the future. We urge the SDP to consider licensing their papers under a free copyleft copyright license such as the GNU Free Documentation License (with no invariant section), the FreeBSD Documentation License or any of the Share Alike Creative Commons licenses.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
An Extraordinary General Meeting was held on May 9, 2007. The Condorcet method was deployed for the vote counting and the following resolutions for the Singapore GNU Group was passed.
- The group shall remain as the Singapore GNU Group.
- GPG would be implemented for signing all official email messages but no encryption would be used. The key's length should be equal to or more than 2048 bits and the time duration from creation to expiration is to be set no more than a week.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
THE Government is increasingly dependent on computer software to operate. Singaporeans access important services like SingPass via the Internet, resulting in software makers having substantial control over how the Government operates.
Most software currently used by the Government is like a black box. It is proprietary, which means that the Government is not allowed to look inside to see how it works. Proprietary software comes with restrictions preventing it from being copied without permission.
The Government placed its fate in the hands of a few entities when it accepted these restrictions on the technology Singaporeans depend on for everything from social services to our CPF savings. Government needs to serve the public interest and has an obligation to remain independent of such control.
If the Government chooses a proprietary program -- for example, to build its websites, this often translates that Singaporeans will have to install a compatible proprietary program on their computers in order to use it. Thus, the Government locks Singaporeans into a relationship with a particular company and takes away their freedom to choose something different.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The Government should begin using free 'as in freedom' software. Free software is one that permits users to use, distribute, study and change the software for any purpose.
There are thousands of free software available. Free operating systems like GNU/Linux are fully capable of replacing the proprietary alternatives from Microsoft. Many organisations, including Mindef, are now using free software like OpenOffice.org.
Free software is also generally more secure. The Government can test and inspect the software directly, and benefit from the fact that people all around the world are inspecting the same software for problems, as the source code is available. When problems are discovered, they can be fixed much more quickly because the fix does not have to depend on a single vendor.
Instead of handing the technological machinery of Singapore to small groups of entities and locking Singaporeans into dependent relationships with these groups, the Government should use publicly available and freely licensed software. This is the only way to preserve the independence of the Government from private interests.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in the 2006 National Day rally: 'The Government has to adapt to the digital age.' If it is to continue as a lead advocate for personal freedom, the Government must recognise the negative impacts of its current software policies.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
On this Earth Day, the Singapore GNU Group feels it particularly important and appropriate that we make an appeal to all Singaporeans to help raise awareness and appreciation of the Earth's environment. Climate changes, including global warming, are now leading to effects such as rising sea level, increased extreme weather events and expansion of the range of tropical diseases, among many. Moving to the Microsoft Vista platform would mean even more damages to our planet, since it requires more energy-hungry hardware to operate. The new operating system is essentially forcing people to undertake harmful environmental upgrades, which is totally unnecessary if free software are used with existing computers instead. In the end, this extremely offensive cost would be passed on to our environment. The group urges everyone to adopt free software as an alternative to Vista to help to protect our planet Earth.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
We have received word that Dell is now preparing to release and support GNU/Linux on its desktop line of computers. While there is a strong possibility of Ubuntu 7.04 being included as it was recently endorsed by no less than its CEO Michael Dell, we like to highlight the unfortunate fact that none of the GNU/Linux distribution considered is completely free. They contain non-free software, ranging from firmware, video drivers to applications like the Adobe Flash player. Show your support for freedom by urging Dell to offer a completely free operating system like gNewSense.
The Singapore GNU group recently received inquires about its political stand and direction. Some are concerned that we are too political in nature, citing the fight against Digital Rights Management (DRM), and that the group seems to be moving away from the GNU philosophy to those of the Pirate Party.
The free software movement is a political movement that aims for software freedom for all computer users. The movement's stand is that people cannot be friends if they are not allow to share software. In addition, without software freedom, people cannot have control over their computers. This problem could be made easier to solve as our community's resource increases. However, in recent years, we have seen free software being attacked by governments who managed to outlaw some of them, such as free software to watch a DVD or listen to a Real Audio stream. This explains why it is no longer enough to write free software only. We need political actions too. The Free Software Foundation had itself launched multiple political campaigns of its own, including two which we are proud to support, BadVista and DefectiveByDesign.
The fight against DRM is the fight for the rights of private ownership and control of our own computers. This has always been the political difference between the free software movement and the open source movement. We in the free software community has always, since 1983, view freedom as important as human rights - an obligation which must be given to everyone who uses a computer. On the other hand, open source supporters view freedom as an option, a grant to others under strict license control.
We were also asked if the licensing of software should be turned into those typical of books, with only one copy and owner. This ideology is based on the premise that it can be shared with anyone and the borrower would return it to the owner once he has finished "reading" it, thus solving the "piracy" issue. In this situation, it is important to note that only one user can access the information (software) at a time. But is information meant to be shared in this way, it being available to only one person at any one time?
Over the past three centuries, we observed that the world is moving towards a free system of universal public education, which used to be conducted on the basis of knowledge that could not be indefinitely duplicated. A good example would be the MIT OpenCourseWare. Books are the first mass produced item in our society. They are the cheapest method of making large amounts of information available by broad public access. Even till today, they are still expensive, difficult to transport and cumbersome to keep.
Now we live in a different world, for the first time in mankind. All the basic knowledge, all the refined sciences and deep mathematics, everything of beauty in music, in the visual arts, all of literature, all of the video arts ever produced can be given to everybody, everywhere, at essentially no additional cost beyond the cost required for the first copy. To suggest a monopoly of information in the hands of a few is not a contribution to our social progress, but a degradation. We urge everyone to reject the antisocial assumption that some person or company has a natural right to prohibit sharing and dictate exactly how the public can use published information.
To be sure, we actually have such a license now, in the form of Apple iTunes. Apple claims that people would steal from them if they did not use DRM, and that they have to protect themselves. Thus, all music bought from the iTunes online store has DRM and that a limited number of the same track can be played at once. It also means you can only have a certain number of copies. It used to be 10, then Apple changed it to 7. Nothing would stop them from changing it again to 5, or 3 or even 1. With DRM, Apple can change the rules again and again, and at any time. DRM gives them that power over you. All your devices will have to do their bidding. That is what DRM is about - taking control away from you and giving it to companies like Apple. The hardware and software which they sell to you will enforce their rules, by removing your rights.
We like to cite Richard Stallman, on why he started the free software movement:
"Suppose that both you and your neighbor would find it useful to run a certain program. In ethical concern for your neighbor, you should feel that proper handling of the situation will enable both of you to use it. A proposal to permit only one of you to use the program, while restraining the other, is divisive; neither you nor your neighbor should find it acceptable.
Signing a typical software license agreement means betraying your neighbor: 'I promise to deprive my neighbor of this program so that I can have a copy for myself.' People who make such choices feel internal psychological pressure to justify them, by downgrading the importance of helping one's neighbors - thus public spirit suffers. This is psychosocial harm associated with the material harm of discouraging use of the program.
Many users unconsciously recognize the wrong of refusing to share, so they decide to ignore the licenses and laws, and share programs anyway. But they often feel guilty about doing so. They know that they must break the laws in order to be good neighbors, but they still consider the laws authoritative, and they conclude that being a good neighbor is naughty or shameful. That is also a kind of psychosocial harm, but one can escape it by deciding that these licenses and laws have no moral force."
Lastly, we would like to stress that the war against DRM is fought by a coalition of technologists in Singapore. Thus, we do not expect everyone who supports the group's DRM fight to also align themselves with our software freedom philosophy. All we stand for in this war, is a very clear message: "DRM needs to be stopped immediately."
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
The founder of Ubuntu, Mark Shuttleworth, had announced through Canonical that the next release after Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, Gutsy Gibbon, would have a new version of Ubuntu alongside with the usual release that is made up of completely free software, due on October 18, 2007. The Singapore GNU Group would certainly support such an ethically good distribution from Ubuntu, but we like to express our concern that it might not share the same goal as gNewSense, that is, about having freedom. Ubuntu is after all a commercial distribution and that means it definitely would include non-free software in their repository.
gNewSense is, and most likely would continue as, a project independent of Gutsy Gibbon even though there are much in common between the two distributions. We look forward to sharing and cooperation between the two parties which hopefully would translate to even greater freedom for the entire free software community.
An Extraordinary General Meeting will be held soon to determine if members are willing to officially form and register the Singapore GNU Group under the Singapore Pirate Party.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
To facilitate the move to GPG for all Google Mail users, we strongly recommend the use of FireGPG, which is a free software licensed under the GPL and an extension for Mozilla based web browser, to encrypt, decrypt, sign and verify email messages. The group move to a GPG based email system is expected to be completed soon for all its members.
The second discussion draft of the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) has been released. To read the latest draft, go to the FSF's website:
Today, almost all online music companies sell music integrated with Digital Rights Management (DRM). Such music is not an acceptable option, since they are restricting even paying users from playing them on non-approved media devices. As the only group defending digital freedom in Singapore, we feel compelled to support the boycott of all products with DRM. We repeat our stand that the solution is to legalize sharing.
Terms such as "Pirate" and "Intellectual Property Theft" have been used to smear those who share with their friends. However, do not support this campaign or believe such propaganda! Piracy is about attacking ships and robbing people, it has nothing in common with sharing information. Moreover, these music companies do not pay money to musicians (unless one is a superstar) and so the absence of these companies would be no loss to society.
The Singapore GNU Group is not involved in any illegal activities like file sharing, but we wish to present an alternative view on current copyright legislative policies. The group uses only free software on all its computer systems.
Dear Singapore netizens
EMI and Apple announced today that they would be releasing music with no DRM, albeit in AAC format, for a premium price on the iTunes store. This is a big step to regain our freedoms -- however much more needs to be done. Please take this time to contact EMI/Apple and voice your concerns. You can use the group's letter as template to do so.
Here are the email addresses for EMI/Apple:
I am very excited to hear that you will be offering music downloads through the iTunes store without DRM. This is a major step towards restoring fair use rights and I applaud you for taking it. While this is a good place to start, there are many other areas that you, along with members of the RIAA, could consider. I am concerned that these non-DRM music downloads are offered at a significantly higher price -- they should be offered at the same price. Freedom should be the rule rather than the exception.
In addition, from what I understand, these downloads will only be available through the Apple iTunes store. iTunes is not compatible with any free operating systems like gNewSense (GNU/Linux) and as a result, I feel that you are losing a market niche which you could have very easily occupied. By not supporting the free software community or allowing them to purchase your music without DRM, you are sending a strong message to the free software movement that their cause for freedom is not important and that you believe they are not fit to be your consumers.
While the ideals of GNU/Linux and the recording industry may not always coincide, there is enough common ground to justify a GNU/Linux client. If Apple would open up the specifications to their online music store and allow derivative works to be made, the free software community could then create their own client. In this situation, you would be free from liability for program maintenance and at the same time, leverage to your advantage, the almost infinite creativity of the free software community. At this, I am sure you would reach a new consumer base.
I hope that you will consider the above ideas.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
OpenOffice.org (OOo) today updated its line of the leading free office suite to version 2.2. OOo 2.2 is the project's first release in 2007, and reflects the community's commitment to offering enhancements and new features on a regular basis. OOo 2.2 also protects users from newly discovered vulnerabilities, where users' PCs could be open to attack if they opened documents from, or accessed web sites set up by, malicious individuals.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today released the third discussion draft for version 3 of the most widely used free software license, the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL).
Today's draft incorporates the feedback received from the general public, official discussion committees, and two international conferences held in India and Japan. Many significant changes have been made since the previous draft, released in July 2006. In recognition of this fact, the FSF now plans to publish one additional draft before the final text of GPL version 3.
Today's draft will be open for discussion for sixty days. The FSF will solicit input in a wide array of public venues and make changes as needed in response. After this period, it will release a "last call" draft, followed by another thirty days for discussion before the FSF's board of directors approves the final text of GPL version 3.
More information about this draft is available at http://gplv3.fsf.org, including the full text, detailed explanations of the latest changes, and new plans for finalizing the license. As with the previous drafts, the FSF encourages community members to provide feedback on the new draft at this site.
Read the third draft at:
The Fedora Project has announced that the next release of Fedora Core, version 7, stated to be ready in May 24, 2007, would contain only free software. We look forward to the day when we can recommend this GNU/Linux distribution to all users. Till then, gNewSense remains as our top choice.
OpenOffice.org has a Release Candidate (4) for version 2.2. We call upon all computing communities in Singapore, no matter which fraction they are in, to help test this snapshot.
The 2007 OpenOffice.org International Conference will be held in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain on 19 to 21 September 2007. See the conference website.
The Singapore GNU Group is now implementing actions to migrate all our computer networks to Tor-based and enforcing email message encryption (GNU Privacy Guard) in order to counter the dangerous surveillance going on in Singapore -- now threatening a radical transformation of our Internet freedom and breaching the very foundation which the future of our digital democracy depends on. The US Department of State had produced a report on Singapore that:
"... authorities routinely monitored telephone conversations and the use of Internet."
We would be publishing all our directors' GPG key on this website as soon as the move completes.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
The Singapore GNU Group updated its SGD Freedom Rating today, lowering the scale from 3.0 to 2.0. This reflects the threatening agents and the degradation of digital freedom in Singapore, with attacks made mainly by local web forums like Hardware Zone and STOMP. We urge all netizens to avoid the two mentioned web forums. More information could be found at the SGD Freedom Rating page.
An open letter was also released to the public, pertaining to the privacy concerns of Wireless@SG.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
An open letter from Openoffice.org was released today to invite Michael Dell to have OOo preinstalled on DELL computers. The current status of OOo poses a serious threat to Microsoft Office's monopoly and we have to mention, especially, the unalienable rights of freedom for all computer users are not to be bargained away. We hope that Dell would agree to contribute to build a foundation of financial security for the free software movement as Sun had did with the release of Java. The full text could be found at:
The Singapore GNU Group is now in the midst of organizing a consortium with free software groups in Angeles City, Cebu and Davao. We also hope to work with communities in Taiwan, Malaysia and China. More information would be released to the media at a later time.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Singapore GNU Group has linked up with The Linux Store (Canada) and we are delighted that they are providing CDs of the completely free GNU/Linux distribution, BLAG Linux and GNU (BLAG), and ship it to anyone worldwide (including Singapore) free of charge.
While we note that Canonical and the Fedora Core community have been providing the same service for a long time, shipping free of charge DVD/CD to anyone who request for it, Ubuntu and Fedora Core are not completely free distribution and thus, we cannot recommend them to anyone.
Now, we are very pleased to report that The Linux Store is providing a fully free GNU distribution - an ethically free distribution, to anyone free of charge and we urge all free software users to make a switch to BLAG if they are not already using a 100% free distribution.
cc: Ryan, The Linux Store (Canada)
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
FSF announced details for its AGM to be held at MIT, March 24, 2007.
Keynote speakers FSF President Richard Stallman and FSF Director Eben Moglen will each address the "Year of the Upgrade" theme, looking at what issues will demand the free software movement's attention after the new version of the GNU General Public License is released.
The meeting will also feature practical discussion among FSF members and its board of directors about ways to increase free software adoption and strengthen the free software movement. Staff members will discuss current FSF campaigns and projects, eliciting feedback and input to shape plans for the coming year.
The full schedule of speakers and details for registration and attendees is published at:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The FSF/GNU had confirmed the group's commitment to freedom and had listed our group as one committed to using and promoting free software in Singapore.
Koh Choon Lin, Executive Director of the Singapore GNU Group, said, "We are proud to be the first GNU group to be listed in East Asia. With this affiliation, we hope to be able to work closely with other free software groups around the region in promoting awareness of the freedoms associated with computing. In particular, we would provide support for civil campaigns like Badvista and DefectiveByDesign. We are now planning for the next stage which will see an escalation of our campaign to take back our digital freedom and liberate cyberspace -- the setting up of Free Software Foundation South East Asia to act as a hub for all free software organizations in ASIAN countries."
Special thanks to FSF President Richard Stallman, Executive Director Peter Brown and GNU Webmaster Yavor Doganov for all the help!
The Singapore GNU Group would like to clarify a recent series of articles in Digital Life by Melissa Tan and Daryl Lim, which suggests that free software means free of charge, or gratis, software. The writers seems to be confused about the difference between free software and freeware.
Of the nine software listed over two weeks (Feb 20, 27) in Digital Life, only three software, namely -- OpenOffice.org, GIMP and Gaim, are free. The remaining six software are non-free software. Freeware and shareware means software which are available gratis, but they do not mean free software.
Free software is a matter of liberty, not price, ever since 1983 when Richard Stallman started the free software movement. Thus, when we say that a software is free, we do not mean that it is gratis. Instead, we meant that the software is free to use, distribute, study and develop. In Mandarin, it means Zi You software, not Mian Fei software. In Malay, it means software Bebas, not software Percuma.
More precisely, it means four different kinds of freedom:
0. The freedom to run the software in any way.
1. The freedom to change the software in any way.
2. The freedom to redistribute copies of the software in any way.
3. The freedom to redistribute modified versions of the software in any way.
If a software has the above four freedoms, it is free software and it is being used and distributed in an ethically way. Note that the definition of free software does not require it to be gratis. If any one of these freedoms is missing, it is proprietary software, meaning that it keeps its users divided and helpless and gives the developer power over the users. This is an injustice and to solve this is the aim of the free software movement.
In addition, it was stated that "open source software is software for which the source code is made known to everyone." This is an obvious meaning of the term "open source" and most people seem to think that is what it meant - which is precisely why the Singapore GNU Group do not recommend using this term, since this led to confusion as it also includes software like Xv and Qt (before its release under the QPL), whose source code is available for viewing but are neither free nor open source software. Note that open source and free software describe, more or less, the same set of software.
cc: Digital Life Editorial
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
We are pleased to find out that Sun is planning to release its implementation of Java under the GPL, expected to be completed in the first half of 2007. With this move, programmers would no longer have to face the Java Trap and Singapore GNU users can finally utilize all the three local banks' Internet Banking service without having to give up their freedom.
For years, the free software community had not taken Java seriously for fear of the Java Trap, when Sun's implementation was non-free. Sun was the only entity that had a say in the future of Java and what could have happened if Microsoft bought over Sun, just as Adobe and AMD had bought over Macromedia and ATI, respectively? What if Java technology became usable only on Microsoft's platform?
Thus, we applause Sun's vision and the leadership shown with the release of Java under the GPL. This is an extraordinary vote of confidence in the free software movement. In time to come, we hope that more companies would emulate Sun and contribute more free software to the community.
Koh Choon Lin
Singapore GNU Group
Govt should move to OpenDocument Format
IMAGINE you live on a sleepy street in a coastal town. A hurricane hits the shore, and the government agency responsible for telling you how and where to get relief, for provisioning aid and emergency services, sends out a curious message: if you cannot afford a copy of Microsoft Windows, we are sorry, we cannot help you. That was what happened in New Orleans when it was hit by Katrina a few months ago.
Recently, I had a similar experience. I went to the HDB website to find out about the new window legislation. There was a video on the website pertaining to the legislation that requires Microsoft Windows Media Player to play. I was running my Linux PC then, so I could not play the video. Being curious, I checked out the file formats on all the Singapore government websites. It turned out that the file formats hosted on them are all stored in Microsoft's formats. What it meant was that I could not use the government services without first buying a Microsoft product.
I urge the Singapore Government to consider migrating the state's documents to the OpenDocument Format, which is the only standard for editable office documents that has been vetted by an independent, recognised standards body, has been implemented by multiple vendors, and can be implemented by anyone without restriction. This format was publicly developed by a variety of organisations and is publicly accessible. The OpenDocument Format is intended to provide an open alternative to proprietary document formats, including the popular but undocumented DOC, XLS and PPT formats used by Microsoft Office.
Organisations and individuals that store their data in an open format such as OpenDocument avoid being locked in to a single software vendor, leaving them free to switch software if their current vendor goes out of business, raises its prices, changes its software, or changes its licensing terms to something less favourable.
The Massachusetts government is making it mandatory to store all the state's files in the OpenDocument Format by next year. The European Union will require OpenDocument as the official office-suite standard once the International Organisation for Standardisation ratifies it.
Koh Choon Lin
SingNet's restriction blocks subscribers' access on internet
I am currently a subscriber to SingNet's broadband plan. For the past few days, I have been trying to download a copy of a Linux distribution and the OpenOffice suite, which have a size of two gigabytes and 100 megabytes respectively, using BitTorrent technology with the official BitTorrent client.
However, the speed of my download is unacceptable, not unlike my past experience of using a dial-up connection. From what I read on local internet forums, this is because SingNet is throttling the subscribers' bandwidth for those who are using the BitTorrent technology.
As suggested by some forum users, I switched to using an encryption-based BitTorrent client and my download speed increased instantaneously. This episode puzzled me. Why is SingNet restricting such a useful technology like BitTorrent?
BitTorrent is a highly successful peer-to-peer program for sharing files over the internet. Historically, the term "peer-to-peer" has been heavily associated with illegal file trading activity, referring to the type of program popularised by Napster and proliferated by software and networks like KaZaA.
They were used almost exclusively for trading copyrighted or otherwise illegal material, specifically pirated movies and music. However with BitTorrent, I feel that this is not the case. Many prominent contributors to the software community have chosen to use BitTorrent to distribute their files.
As an example, several distributions of the open source operating system Linux, which is used by HDB, are available through BitTorrent downloads. Another open source software distributed by BitTorrent is the popular OpenOffice suite, which is used by the Ministry of Defence.
Distributors of these and other similarly large software projects have chosen to use BitTorrent to distribute their files because it alleviates stress on their download servers and allows users to contribute their bandwidth and become distributors of the software they seek to attain.
There are also groups of video artists and musicians who offer their work as BitTorrent downloads. Often, a budding artist cannot afford the bandwidth to provide downloads of their work to all their fans. The use of BitTorrent technology enables these artists to spread their work at a fraction of the bandwidth cost.
According to a report from British Web analysis firm CacheLogic, BitTorrent traffic accounts for an astounding 35 per cent of all the traffic on the internet.
If this is accurate, SingNet's BitTorrent restriction is effectively blocking subscribers' access to 35 percent of the internet. A restriction of such a magnitude to a resource so vast is surely incongruous with Singapore's plan for an ultra high speed nationwide broadband network.
By disallowing access to this much of the internet, SingNet is harming its subscribers, budding artists, software developers and the open source community.
I request SingNet to remove this restriction.
Koh Choon Lin