Sunday Jul 05, 2009

Lula's Free Java Ring

Lula's Java Ring

The Brazilian economy is powered by the Java platform - even their new Free digital TV standard uses it. They took the decision to use Java for so much in part when we (Bruno, myself and a number of others) assured them, a number of years ago, that there would be Free implementations. The story ever since has been snowballing investment in Java skills and an economy capable not only of supporting its own needs but also of exporting skills - they've been making Java a priority for years.

When I was honoured to be invited to meet the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, at this year's FISL event in Porto Alegre, I naturally accepted. I decided to give him a Java Ring, a wearable Java-powered computer, as a symbolic token of the deep symbiosis between Brazil, the Java platform and Free software.

He took it enthusiastically, put it on straight away - and it fit him. He said that having a computer on his finger made him feel like James Bond and he posed for photographs with it.


The visit by the President of Brazil to (probably) the largest Free software event in the world is a landmark for the Free software movement. In his speech at the event, Lula recognised especially the work of Sergio Amadeu (once Lula's advisor on IT and the man Microsoft tried to sue for being honest about their strategy) and commented on the years of work that had been involved "preparing the meal" on which the country was now able to feast. In response to Marcelo Branco and the many others who had been lobbying him since he arrived at the event, he also too the opportunity to set his face against the terrible internet laws being proposed for Brazil.

The visit was a landmark in at least three ways:

  • It represented the first visit I'm aware of to a Free software event of a head of state - in this case the head of the 14th largest economy in the world
  • The speech demonstrated the key role Free software leaders like Sergio and Marcello have had in shaping the IT strategy in the country;
  • The deprecation of the internet laws demonstrated that the Free software community actually has a powerful lobbying voice.
Stallman Honoured in Brazil

What was also fascinating was the regard in which Lula - and his ministers - held Richard Stallman. When the Finance minister came along the line-up before Lula arrived he commented on seeing Stallman "I know you!". Lula himself gave a warm and firm welcome to Stallman. Free software has been over 25 years in the making, but in Brazil it took place as a recognised force in affairs of state, in a way I am sure will be repeated globally in coming years.

Saturday Jul 04, 2009

☞ Three Frees for Independence Day

Wednesday Aug 29, 2007

The Wrong End of the Paint Stick

John Loiacono

One of my better managers at Sun was John Loiacono - I worked for him around the start of the decade. Later, when I was working for then-CTO of software John Fowler, Loiacono was a figurehead for the release of OpenSolaris under the CDDL. By then he'd become way too busy to talk at any length to the likes of me, although he was as charming as ever on the odd occasions we met. And so, I never really got to discuss Free software with him before he left for Adobe.

Reading his recent blog posting, Innovate or Integrate, I start to wish I had. Despite claiming open source credentials, John explains why he thinks it has no place in Adobe's creative products business. From what the blog says - "Yes, clearly it's cheaper, but does it really save money in the end?" - it's clear this part of Adobe thinks of Free/Open Source software purely as a commodity and a way of cutting corners. That it's ultimately only about saving money. They seem to confuse Free with free, liberty with payment. In the process Adobe is missing a huge opportunity.

The thing is, the user-integrated/supplier-integrated distinction in the blog is a false dichotomy. The blog compares their products with existing Free graphics software - presumably things like The Gimp, Inkscape, Nvu and so on. It concludes their lack of integration makes them fatally inferior and thus the Free software from all open source communities is flawed. But that's missing the whole point.

As Stallman points out, software freedom is not about avoiding payment, it is about preserving and exercising liberty. I don't accept that pursuing profit and respecting software freedom are unrelated, much less that they run counter to each other. Profit and liberty are not orthogonal. I also profoundly believe that competing against software freedom provides (at best) a short-term advantage. For a company like Adobe, to compete against software freedom is to ignore the inexorable progress of disruptive technologies and the Innovator's Dilemma.

Those Free programs aren't integrated and offer lower function than Adobe's product today, but through Adobe's neglect that will change. They'll find each other, start to define interfaces and integrations with each other, begin to penetrate the "good-enough" band on the chart. Worse, being outside their domain, Adobe will refuse to use the integration they define. This happened while Sun was neglecting Free Java implementations, for example. The Java Libre communities agreed interfaces to make VMs and JITs pluggable and today can plug and play VMs with relative ease - apart from HotSpot.

So what could Adobe do? Well, by opening up their source code, licensing it under the GPL, they would team with the open source communities gathered around the various Free software commons. It's not impossible - they do it elsewhere in their business (albeit with a different motive and competitor). Instead of competing against Free graphics software, their programs would become the leading Free graphics suite. It would have the tight integration the blog speaks of, but it would also deliver the freedoms that the software world is coming to expect, stimulating a new developer community emboldened by the guarantees of freedom. And perhaps most importantly, their software would likely become available on platforms Adobe is currently unwilling to touch. They would take a leadership position that their main competitor would be unable to assail.

OK, there are plenty of difficult unanswered questions about business models, community governance and so on (which I'd love to explore, by the way, they are not insurmountable). But the point is, the dichotomy Adobe paints is of its own making. It is not inherent in either Free software or in the open source communities which create it. And by trying to protect their short-term revenue, Adobe avoid affinity with some high-energy developers while pushing their customer base to increasingly attractive Free - and free - alternatives.

Sunday Nov 12, 2006

Free At Last

Get the Source

Yes, it's true. The thing I joined Sun to see happen in 2000 is actually announced today. The whole Java platform - SE, ME, EE - will be Free software under the GPL, with the process starting today and continuing for the next six months. We're using GPL v2 plus the Classpath exception for most of it - more in the FAQ.

Making this happen has been a hugely consuming task, both for my (wonderful and hard-working) team, for the actual Java platform teams at Sun today and for many, many people around the world in the Free software community. The contributions of those before us is also huge - this has, after all, been on ongoing topic for many years. As the saying goes, it takes a village. Thank-you, everyone.

Much more to come.


Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.


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