Wednesday Jul 18, 2007

The FSF Board: The Next Generation

I was chatting with Peter Brown of the FSF last week and found out that I had missed the news about Benjamin Mako Hill's appointment to the FSF board.  I think this is fantastic news.  While very impressive, the FSF board is not as diverse as it could be and Mako's appointment to the spot left vacant by Eben Moglen will add diversity along the axis of age.  

At the ripe old of age of 26 Mako brings a different perspective to Software Freedom.  As discussed in feature last week on Linux.com:

...Hill says that, in many ways, he represents the second generation of free software activists. He suggests that the first generation of activists, such as Richard Stallman, were motivated by their dream of a free operating system. People of Hill's generation share that goal, but view it differently, because they have grown up with free operating systems. As a result, Hill says, "The things that interest me are not flexing the technical muscle, although that's important. It's more defending freedom, helping to make the tough calls about how the FSF protects freedom. We've succeeded to a massive degree -- not entirely, but hugely -- and I think it's important to start thinking about how we're going to move from here."

He also talked about the shift in  the potential audience for the free software message.

"It used to be that software freedom was something most important to hackers, because they were the ones who were most impacted." But now, with the majority of people in industrialized worlds using computers or computerized devices throughout their day, the audience has grown vastly larger, and so has what is at stake.

While Mako's background is in civil rights, he was fundamental in the formation of Ubuntu, currently serving on the community council as well as being the first author of "The Official Ubuntu Book" which he co-authored.  And speaking of books he was also first author of the "Debian GNU/Linux 3.x Bible" which he also co-authored and is a key member of the Debian community.  In fact, it was at Debconf7 last month that I briefly met him.

So a big congratulations to Benjamin Mako Hill,  I hope I get the chance to work with you soon.

Pau for now... 


Monday Apr 02, 2007

My first trip back to the Mothership

 

As a recent member of the Sun diaspora I made my first trip back to the Bay Area last week. I took the "nerd bird" from Austin and arrived bright and early Monday morning.  I came out to give a couple of presentations and sync up with Ian Murdock.  The trip went well and I packed a bunch into my three days there.  Here are some highlights:

OS Ambassadors

Monday afternoon Simon and I presented to the OS Ambassadors, Sun's top OS SE's from around the world.  The ambassadors had gathered for their biannual week-long conference where they sync up with all thats going on around the company.  Simon took them through his FOSS pitch and I detailed our GNU/Linux business.  We got quite a bit of interest in both topics. 

Turns out that we were the warm-up act for Jonathan Schwartz who spent about 5 minutes on prepared remarks and then fielded questions from the audience.  He was his usual eloquent and laid back self.   He in turn was the warm up act for the Bryan and Mike show.  To call these guys, particularly Bryan, high-energy would be a severe understatement.  They regaled the crowd with tales of the extremely cool stuff they've been working on for the past year and were highly entertaining.

Presenting to Senior Software Execs:  Of Sticky Notes and Free Software

Wednesday afternoon the FOSS team got to brief our top Software Execs on the status of what we've been working on.  David Marr, our team's legal dude and one of Sun's representatives on committee B, and I presented on our relationship with the Free Software Foundation as well as GPL version 3.  As luck would have it, the morning of the preso the latest draft of GPLv3 was released to the public so David got to scramble and revise his preso for the afternoon. 

David drew on a host of high tech props including dollar bills, Post-it notes and notebook paper to get across the finer points of patent licensing.  (Needless to say, going forward we wont be accepting any Post it notes from 3M that are not GPLv3)

David Marr, with the help of volunteer Jean Elliott, explaining the nuances of patent licensing (Note: Jean did not get to keep the dollar).

My Dinners with Ian

Both nights I was there I got to dine with Ian (the first also included a whole gaggle of Sun luminaries such as Tim Bray, Josh Berkus, Simon, Bryan, Mike etc as sort of an unofficial welcome to Sun for Ian).  I've been very impressed with how rational Ian comes across and his clarity around where he wants to go.  Im glad he's on our team.

And speaking of GPLv3

When I ran into our fearless leader on campus I was good naturedly harangued regarding the GPLv3 shirt that I had promised him --  I told him the shirt was in the mail. 

To be clear:  In order for Sun to make a final decision on GPLv3 two things need to first happen 1) the final draft needs to be published and evaluated and  2) the shirt needs to be wicked cool.

 

The view of the estuary outside my hotel.

 

Pau for now..


Monday Mar 19, 2007

Ian's in the House!

Well the big news today is that Ian Murdock started this morning as Sun's Chief Operating Platforms Officer.  As the founder of Debian along with the work he has done as the CTO of the Linux Foundation and the head of the Linux Standard Base, he will bring a fresh perspective to our OS strategy. 

I had a great talk with him last week and am excited by his thinking, particularly around the area of Solaris and usability.   He mentioned that while he will be resigning as the CTO of the Linux Foundation, he plans to remain as the head of the Linux Standard Base, so that means Sun will be assured a representative there :-)  Im also glad to hear that in true FOSS fashion he wont be relocating.   The more Sun decentralizes geographically the better (says the recent Austin emigre).

Welcome Ian!

 

PS look for the answers to the Saints tomorrow.

Pau for now... 

Thursday Mar 15, 2007

While I was Unpacking...the Penguin marched on

Well while we've been moving the family to Austin -- driving across country, flying back across country, packing boxes, unpacking boxes, looking for local doctors, finding dry cleaners, dealing with the stomach virus (all 5 of us in succession, like dominoes) etc. -- the GNU/Linux world has churned on. 

Here are a few of the interesting events that have taken place while Ive been distracted:

Pau for now...         

..

 

Wednesday Feb 07, 2007

OpenSolaris: To 3 or not to 3, that is the Question

Well we're at an exciting point here on the "eve" of the release of GPLv3.   In light of the impending release the question has been raised, does it make sense to dual license OpenSolaris under both CDDL and GPLv3?  As OpenSolaris is already licensed under CDDL this means that the question on the proverbial table is whether to add GPLv3.  Obviously, since GPLv3 has not been released, its difficult at this point to definitively pledge support for the license or to rule it out.  That being said, however, it is an appropriate time to start soliciting opinions from the community(ies).  Whatever the final decision is, it cant be one that Sun makes in a vacuum or that is dictated to the community.

Stephen Harpster, engineering director for OpenSolaris, kicked off the dialog a week ago by soliciting feedback from the community on the idea of dual licensing Open Solaris under GPLv3  .  The funny thing is no one responded...just kidding, it has produced a maelstrom of impassioned responses.  Rather than trying to sum up the nature of the comments im going to take the easy way out and point you to Stephen O'Gradys blog from Saturday since he has done a great job of  capturing the issues. 

So thats the topic of the current community and its members...what about new members we want to attract?  One of the biggest reasons that Sun would look to add GPLv3 is to win over new converts to  "Free" Solaris and to grow the community by bringing in folks from the GNU/Linux world.   What I personally would love to see is for the GNU crew to take the Solaris kernel, wrap it in a GNUserland and create a distro that would be as easy to install as Ubuntu (which I, a marketing guy, installed recently in six easy steps that caused no feelings of  inadequacy or anxiety).   We could keep a rocket-scientist Solaris distro but why shouldnt there be multiple distros based on the Solaris kernel for various user types?

So this leads to the question, what does the FSF, the champion of GPLv3, think of all this?  Rather than pondering via inference and guesswork, we asked them.  At the end of last week, Stephen, Simon, Sara and I held a call with Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF, and a team from the FSF to get their thoughts on the possibility of dual licensing OpenSolaris.  Peter and crew were very receptive to the idea and gave us some thoughts to ponder.  It was a very good call and we ended with Peter and team agreeing to put their heads together and think through the most effective way they could help us with our decision.   The FSF'ers recognize the sensitivities around the topic and were going to give a think about how to weigh in and in which forums would be most appropriate to share their views with the OpenSolaris community as well as  Free Software advocates.

Im very interested to hear what they come back with.  Stay tuned...

 

Pau for now... 

Monday Jan 29, 2007

The Teachings of Richard Stallman - The Cliffs Notes

Last Saturday I got to present at PFOSSCON '07 held on Oahu at the University of Hawaii Manoa.  It was my first time out speaking on behalf of Sun's efforts in the Free and Open Source arena and I was really pleased the way it turned out.  It was good crowd drawn from Hawaii's schools (students and teachers) as well as the professional community and I was impressed by the level of interest and the quality of questions I got. 

The big draw for the event was the prophet of the Free Software movement, Richard Stallman.  I had never met Stallman before and had heard all sorts of horrendous tales involving personal hygiene and a rabid set of beliefs.  Needless to say I was a bit daunted that my first time speaking at a conference on Free and Open Source Software would be in front of him.  The morning of the event, however, I felt much more at ease.  When Stallman walked in the room, instead of the Thor like figure I had imagined, he was on the short side, had a bit of a pot-belly and a slight New York accent. 

 

 
 
 The PFOSSCON audience at the UH Manoa  Richard Stallman letting freedom ring


Stallman's Talk

(To view recordings, via Free Software, of the any of the talks given at PFOSSCON including Richard Stallman's, click here.)

I was impressed with the talk he gave which was lucid, non-technical and sprinkled with humor and bad puns.  Although I had read some of his essays beforehand, the talk was a great introduction to the Free Software movement, its history, its ideals and why its important.  Here are some of the notes I took:


The 4 Freedoms

  • Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless

  • Free Software (Free as in Freedom, not Free as in beer) respects the users freedoms

  • In order to be considered free software it must reflect the four freedoms

    • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program, for any purpose 

    • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. [Access to the source code is a precondition for this.]

    • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.

    • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. [Access to the source code is a precondition for this.]


GNU/Linux Operating System

  • Stallman began the GNU project in 1983 with the goal of developing a completely free operating system.  He based GNU on UNIX since it was a portable operating system and would allow upward compatibility as well provide familiarity.   He talked about the derivation of name GNU, which he considers one of the funniest words in the English language.

  • The GNU team had great success developing the userland but were having a tough time developing a kernel when low and behold a student in Finland came up with a kernel in 1991 called Linux.  In 1992 the Linux kernel was relicensed under a free license and it was then combined with the GNU userland to create the GNU/Linux operating system.

  • He is adamant that the resulting operating system always be referred to as GNU/Linux (GNU+Linux) rather than simply Linux.  Not only is "Linux" incorrect since it is only the kernel but, more importantly it leaves out the ideals of freedom which GNU is based on and which Linus Torvalds doesnt care about.

Open Source vs Free Software:  Along the same lines as "Linux," Stallman is staunchly against using the term "Open Source" since embodies only the practical concerns and not the ethical issues and ideals that "Free Software" espouses.   The concern here is that even if "Open Source"could get you to the goal of completely free software, "A fool and his freedom are soon parted."   Without the ideological insight and vigilance that Free Software provides,  it would be easy for proprietary software to find its way back in.


The Liberating of Java technology

  • For many years Java was a problem ("Free but Shackled") but the problem is now being solved since Sun is liberating the platform.  We must learn a lesson from the history of Java, so we can avoid other such traps in the future.


The Free Software Community now has enemies

  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) - Exporting censorship to other countries

  • Patent law - It makes software development a minefield.

 

"Secondary topics"

  • Why do people develop free software

    1. Political idealism

    2. Fun

    3. To be admired/appreciated

    4. To increase your professional reputation (work you do here can help you get a job)

    5. Gratitude (give back to the Free Software community)

    6. Hatred for Microsoft (this is foolish since you shouldnt focus your hatred so narrowly) - Shallow

    7. Money paid to develop Free Software by governments, universities, companies. - Shallow

  • Why Schools must use Free Software

    1. To save money.  This is superficial since proprietary vendors can donate software with the idea of, like a drug, students will get hooked on their software and then will be willing to pay for it after they graduate.

    2. To educate the best programmers.  If kids dont have access to the code they can only learn so much about how the program works and how to write good code.

 

Stallman then ended his presentation with the appearance of his alter-ego, St. Ignucius (ill do a short blog on that in a couple of days).

Be sure to tune in tomorrow when I will take you through a pictorial oddessey of our travels on the Big Island

 

Pau for now... 


 

Thursday Jan 18, 2007

Hawaii Bound

Well Im really excited because tomorrow morning at 9:00AM I jet off to Hawaii to speak at the Pacific Free and Open Source Convention  (PFOSSCON.)

I weaseled my way into this since Im the only member of the Free and Open Source Group at Sun that was born and raised in Hawaii.  Not that being from the islands was a prerequisite but that didnt stop me from putting myself forward as the most appropriate candidate.  I even got to do pre-press for the event by doing an interview on KTUH, the university of Hawaii at Manoa's student radio station which is also streamed live on the web.

At PFOSSCON, I will be sharing the bill with none other than the prophet of the Free Software Movement himself, Richard Stallman.   Ive never seen Stallman speak and since I will be managing Sun's relationship with the Free Software Foundation, this will be a great opportunity.  Also speaking will be Dave Roberts.  Dave is VP of strategy and marketing at a cool looking company called Vyatta that is pursuing open source networking.

The conference is on Saturday, so I will have Sunday to relax with friends and relatives.  Monday we are off to Waimea on the Big Island to do a mini conference to the astronomer community and other interested parties.  Waimea is fascinating since its a small little town that is home to some of the world's top astronomers.  The reason for this is that it is at the foot of Mauna Kea which, given its height and location in the middle of the Pacific, hosts some of the most advanced observatories on earth. Observatories such as the  Keck, Gemini and CFHT

I plan to take a bunch of pictures and post some in future blogs.  I may even blog from the isles while Im there...but then again, the risk of getting sand in my laptop may be too great and I may have to keep it zipped up in its case.

Pau for now...

About

I look after Sun's relationships with the various GNU/Linux communities as well as our relationship with the FSF. Last year, my family and I emigrated from Silicon Valley to Austin, TX.

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