Monday Dec 14, 2009

☞ Discrimination?

  • I can't help thinking that we're over-keen to identify minorities and cater to their inability to cope with the real world. Everyone gets discriminated against at some time or another, and it's not fun, but if we react to every possible cause of discrimination society will not function; if we only react to select causes of discrimination that in itself is discrimination too. Th future is CRB checks and internet filetring if we don't demand common sense instead of intervention.
  • A campaign I support. All over the world, the leaders of the analogue world are waking up to the oncoming digital society, hating it and instead of adapting to it, trying to stop it. Australia seems to have become one of the leading test-beds of reactionary policy in this regard, and this is but one more step. And once again, intervention that actually serves the forces of the incumbent is framed as "protecting us".
  • The first rule of GPL compliance is being responsive when Bradley tells you that there's a problem, because he means it. No real surprise to see this lawsuit; most companies I've encountered don't understand the difference between Free software and freeware, mainly because of the name.

Friday Dec 11, 2009

☞ Messing With My Rights

Monday Dec 07, 2009

☞ Unintended Consequences Redux

Sunday Dec 06, 2009

☞ Your Freedom - In Safe Hands?

  • The House of Lords debate uncovered the lack of accountability that has been caused by concentrating so many roles in a single department under Peter Mandelson. The Lords asked "Can so vast a department really be held to account effectively when its only Cabinet minister is here and not in the Commons?" but I'd go further and ask whether such a vast department can in any way be held accountable to Parliament. Lord Mandeson is clearly not a safe pair of hands for our liberty and he is using both of them to grasp it and reserve it to himself.
  • Whether these are a good idea or not for their intended use, the article makes no mention at all of their use by the police to track vehicles for other uses. Everywhere you see the phrase "speed camera" or "safety camera" think "surveillance camera" becuase these are general-purpose video cameras whose use is dictated purely by software. They can be used with great ease for general surveillance, and the more we allow on the streets the less freedom we have as a society, no matter what benefits may be used to justify their initial introduction.

Tuesday Nov 17, 2009

☞ Getting A Clue

Friday Nov 13, 2009

A Software Freedom Scorecard

I spoke this morning at the South Tyrol Free Software Conference in Bolzano, Italy. My subject was the idea of a "software freedom scorecard", a list of indicators for the strength of software freedom in an open source project or product, about which I wrote recently. The slides are available for download.

I also refer to reptiles, and that's a reference to another blog post.

Tuesday Nov 03, 2009

☞ Copyright Fascists

Thursday Oct 01, 2009

Truth In Labelling

When I wrote about Organic Software recently, I was largely eulogising the community dimension of open source software. But there's another way in which the idea of "organic software" is helpful to understanding the dynamic in free and open source software. Here are the comments I have been making at Open World Forum here in Paris.


Reading Michael Pollan's excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma gives an insight into the real vision of the community behind the term "organic" as applied to food. Pollan describes spending what were clearly a few life-changing weeks at a New England farm that "farms grass". They feed the grass to cows for dairy and for meat. They fertilise the grass with chickens, which give eggs and meat and themselves clear the waste left by the cows. They have a complete cycle of production, working the land and returning it to richness and fertility rather than treating it as a "natural resource", exploiting it for monoculture and relying on petro-chemicals to keep it going. This sustained cycle of richness was the original vision behind "organic" - a rebellion against industrial food, yes, but a positive rebellion leading to skilled people with quality lifestyles farming sustainably and leaving the land better than they found it while producing wholesome and natural food. They treat the farm like an organism - which was in fact the origin of the term.


"Organic", of course, is just a brand. Brands ought to be good things - attention-markers that classify their bearer in the group of things we trust. The appropriation of the term drives my scientifically-trained friends nuts, because they (like me) were taught to understand the word as a classification for carbon chemistry. But it's a strong brand that people seek out, and that strength has itself led to a problem.

Seeing that "organic food" rang bells for consumers, the food industry wanted to use the term to label their products. There's a problem, though. The food industry has optimised their supply chains by driving monocultures in different regions, driving down prices by commoditisation. They further exploit government subsidy for things like maize and petroleum by-products to drive up yield as the monocultures use them to increase crop volumes - at the expense of the land. All the exact opposite of the vision that led to "organic", in other words.

But people were willing to compromise in order to achieve a little good - "surely it's better to have something than nothing?". The food industry managed to get "organic" defined not holistically but in terms of "inputs" - the things needed to drive the monocultures. Rather than changing their production and economic systems, they simply switched to techniques so that the monocultures could come to harvest without artificial chemicals. The rest of the context? All the same. So today, most people think of "organic" as just meaning the absence of artificial additives and fertilisers in the ingredients in the foods we buy.

But "organic" means far more than just "inputs". It actually describes a whole approach to food, embracing the lifestyle of the producer, the lifestyle of the customer and the relationship between the two. It implies "slow food, "local food", animal welfare, local diversity, sustainable agriculture, environmental awareness and more. Reducing it down just to the "inputs" misses the core values of "organic" and leads people to false conclusions (like the recent UK agency report denouncing organic food as no more nutritious than processed food). Inputs and nutrition are the currency of industrial food, where supposed health claims are the benchmark for marketing something unpalatable by ignoring the stuff that would make you run away (something that happens in the property market too). Hearing "organic" measured by them is a sure sign that the speaker has co-opted the brand rather than embraced the lifestyle and values.

Organic Software

Fruit stand in São Paulo

Which leads me to "organic software" again. An open source project is what happens when people gather round a free software commons to synchronise a fragment of their interests alongside others doing the same. To succeed, it depends on a mesh of factors, not just on the way the copyright is licensed (although that's important of course). Ultimately to proponents of open source communities and of free software, it's not just about ... well, it's not just about any one attribute. What's happened to software freedom when it was branded as open source seems to me analogous to what has happened to holistic agriculture when it was branded as organic. A valuable brand was indeed created - companies wouldn't want to use it otherwise.

The various discussions about the state of open source here at Open World Forum in Paris seem to me to often miss the heart of the issue for the software marketplace. The reason open source has made such a huge impact is that it delivers software freedoms to software users. Software freedom is the key, and a company with a focus on open source will do business by delivering value through software freedom. There's no one way to do it - every business will have a different model. But any company wanting to affiliate with the open source and free software movement needs to be graded on their impact on software freedom.

Software Freedom Means Business Success

A focus on software freedom isn't just for the revolutionaries. All the values that make CIOs pick open source software are derived from software freedom:

  • The freedom to use the software for any purpose, without first having to seek special permission (for example by paying licensing fees). This is what drives the trend to adoption-led deployment;
  • the availability of skills and suppliers because they have had no barriers to studying the source code and experimenting with it;
  • the assurance that vendors can't withhold the software from you because anyone has the freedom to modify and re-use the source code;
  • the freedom to pass the software on to anyone that needs it, even including your own enhancements - including your staff, suppliers, customers and (in the case of governments) citizens.
When software users are deciding which suppliers to deal with, they need to know whether their software freedoms are being respected and cultivated, because their budgets and success depend on it.

Truth In Advertising

That's about more than just licensing. It also includes factors such as diversity of copyright ownership, representative leadership, use of open standards, patent safety, control of trademarks, openness of governance and more. While measuring such "inputs" can never wholly identify the holistic concept which is software freedom, I am still convinced the next step for open source is to devise "open source definitions" for these other key attributes, so that we can get away from an undefined and loose understanding of an open source business and instead have a more nuanced approach.

What I would like to see is a move by OSI to create a suite of "open source definitions" against which a business could grade itself, and then indicate how many "stars" they score against the full suite. There would be very, very few businesses able to score a full set of stars, but the transparency of being able to see how companies rate in cultivating (rather just exploiting) software freedom would benefit us all in creating a strong, open market. We could set benchmarks in our procurement guidelines, requiring "no less than a five-star rating on the open source benchmark", just as we require ISO9001 and similar ratings. OSI as an organisation is ready for this evolution of its role. Who wants to help make it happen? It's time.

[Also posted to my OSI Board Blog]

Sunday Sep 27, 2009

☞ Children Today

  • “The single biggest problem in American education is that no one agrees on why we educate,” observes Diane Ravitch. ”Faced with this lack of consensus, policy makers define good education as higher test scores.” -- I have long felt that our obsessive focus on testing a league tables degrades education rather than improves it. Young adults leave school with great scores yet still need extensive training and apprenticeship before they can enter the workforce. It's time we raised the value of apprenticeship within mainstream education.
  • Apple just lost an iPod Touch sale in our household...
  • The point at which the state interferes with private arrangements between friends is the point at which you know it's going too far. The current witch-hunt against "paedophiles" and "sex offenders" needs seasoning with some tolerance and common sense because its being used to erode our liberty and way of life as much as terrorism hysteria. Maybe now it's started affecting women as well as men a backlash will begin?

Friday Jul 24, 2009

☞ Wonderful, but missing the point

Friday May 08, 2009

☞ Freedoms, their use and abuse

Thursday Apr 30, 2009

☞ Freedom, Flu and Gordon Brown

Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

Document Freedom Day 2009

Today is Document Freedom Day, the second year it's been celebrated. We have a great opportunity in front of us this year. With Microsoft promising to support ODF any day now in their latest office suite (and with the ODF plug-in already freely available for their older versions), it will become politically acceptable for organisations everywhere to standardise on ODF for their documents.

This is an important step, because ODF is widely supported and implemented, openly developed and provides a baseline that will be readable for years to come. That protects the ability of future generations to read our documents in just the same way that we are able to read the documents that explain what went on in previous generations.

So what can you do to celebrate? Here are some ideas:

  • Steer your organisation to adopt the Open Document Protocol, with the intent of sharing only widely available and open formats with other organisations.
  • Give a friend a copy of
  • Give a friend who's locked in to Microsoft Office a copy of the ODF Plug-in
Happy DFD!

Sunday Feb 22, 2009

"Because our copyrights are worth more than your human rights"

Monday is the last day of the internet blackout campaign organised and in support of it I have blacked out my avatars on Twitter and Facebook as well as on this page. Why? It's to appeal a very badly thought-out law that's been passed in New Zealand, one that the media lobby would love to see introduced in Europe too - it's already been introduced by threats in Ireland and we had a near-miss in the UK and in Germany. We need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the kiwis. If the media lobby gets away with it over there, the rest of us will be picked off one-by-one via the global reach of the WTO and WIPO.

Bad Law

What's wrong with this law? It's not just that companies who built their business by using the commons now want to strangle it (although they hypocritically do want that). It's not that those same companies want their faltering business models shored-up by chilling effects, framing the celebration by their customers of the culture they are trying to create as akin to murder, rape and theft ("piracy"). It's not even that the new law in New Zealand gives a bunch of businesses who have shown themselves to have severely asymmetric morals the power to simply accuse without proof to get results.

Cultural Conduit

No, as I said when I was in Wellington, the problem is much deeper than the campaign against "Guilt Upon Accusation" in New Zealand would suggest. Our society has changed fundamentally in the last decade. The emergence of the world-wide web pushed the Internet from research curiosity into endemic facility, present in every office, then every home and now every pocket.

It is now the medium for culture, for education, for finance, for politics, for engagement with government services. Just this weekend we've seen RyanAir announce that the only way you can fly with them will be if you have an internet connection to check-in as well as to buy the ticket - no more check-in desks. We will increasingly see the Internet be the only way things can be done. Access to the Internet is no longer the casual frippery that this law believes. It is already integral to modern life. It will become a fundamental part of every aspect of our lives, as basic as electricity, telephones or pavements/sidewalks, the primary conduit for democracy, commerce, culture and social interaction.

Disproportionate Punishment

What crime do you have to commit in your country to be forbidden use of electricity (not just disconnected)? To be forbidden use of a phone? To be forbidden to walk on the streets? Yes, the lack of due process in this bad New Zealand law is a worry, but much more of a concern is its calculation that the infringement of a copyright justifies the removal of the main conduit of social engagement from a citizen. This cannot be allowed to stand.

This is not a matter for a "voluntary code of conduct" either. As use of the Internet becomes more complex and more fundamental, it's becoming clear in the UK that the Internet Watch Foundation - a group set up by ISPs so they wouldn't be regulated over every politician's excuse for bad legislation, "protecting children" - is harmful to us all, cracking small nuts with pile drivers and lacking transparency and accountability. It's great New Zealand has a temporary stay on the new law, but the reason - development of a voluntary code of conduct so citizens rights can be repeatably infringed in support of media business models - is still unacceptable, still agrees that citizen access to the internet is worth less than media business models.

It Shall Not Stand If We Stand Together

That's why S92A has to be struck down in New Zealand, why similar laws have to be resisted worldwide and why the media lobby needs to wise up and pipe down. We may not have reached a point where Internet access is an essential right, but it's too close now for us to tolerate its abridgment for any reason or set a precedent we then have to argue to undo. Infringing copyright is not something to be condoned, but there is no sense in which anyone's copyrights are more valuable than our 21st century human rights.


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


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