FSF 2008 Fundraiser

Free Software 1 Comment »

New Targets

Previously I blogged about the FSF 2007 Fundraiser and some of the cool things you get when you register as a member. The first time they did this, they recruited 300 new members, the second time 500 and now, the target is 800 new members.

Why join the FSF?

The Free Software Foundation’s primary source of income is donations. The Free Software Foundation has played a big part over the years to improve our accessibility to software and protect the rights of developers and users alike. Their high-priority projects have included:

  • The creation of a completely free operating system, which has been achieved through both the GNU/Linux and BSD operating systems
  • A free flash implementation, which is making good headway via the GNU Gnash project
  • A free Java implementation, and Sun has committed to releasing Sun Java under a free license as well
  • Maintaining the GNU licenses, including the GPL, LGPL and the relatively new AGPL.
  • Campaigns such as Defective by Design (which is very important to me personally) and the Play Ogg campaign.
  • Project hosting via the GNU Savannah site

Donations start from US$10 a month, and US$5 if you’re a student. It doesn’t sound like too much, but when enough members commit it goes a long way to help improving the FSF and what they can provide to us as free software users.

If you do sign up, please use my referer URL by clicking on the image above or on this link, they have a referrer program where they track how many members existing members have recruited. I had 5 which I thought was very little, but it gives me a #3 position currently on the referrers list. Richard Johnson, who is also an Ubuntero is also doing quite well on the list.

Some people often ask whether the Free Software Foundation is still relevant in a world where Free Software is already so abundant. Many people have (or have tried to) circumvented the practical benefits of free software by using Tivoization-like methods or by using Software Patents. I believe that the free software foundation is as relevant as ever and I will support them in what ever way I can.

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It’s just firmware

Free Software 10 Comments »

Many GNU/Linux distributions distribute firmware required to use a variety of hardware, most typically, wireless cards, modems and certain high-end disk controllers. While I’m certainly not fond of these non-freebinary blobs“, I think it’s fine that distributions ship them. Users need their hardware to work, and it shouldn’t be complex to make it work either. Consider how incredibly easy it is to install Ubuntu, and then consider the jump of complexity when a user has to install or compile a driver manually- it can cause a significant decrease in free software adoption, and at the moment, I believe it’s a necessary evil we’ll have to live with for now.

However, I get agitated when people say “It’s just firmware” or “It’s technically part of the hardware”. Free firmware is important. One of the most notable free software stories that are often told even refers to Stallman’s earliest experiences with non-free code, which happened to be printer firmware.

Before you say something like “It’s just firmware” again. Please consider asking the following questions first:

  • Can the amount of bugs in a system be decreased if the firmware is free software as apposed to non-free?
  • Could performance possibly be increased if the firmware is free software?
  • Could it benefit hardware hackers and developers by having free firmware available?

And what about security? Firmware usually does not run on your main CPU. It runs on a specific part of hardware on your system that can possibly have direct access to other parts of your system. How would a user, for a fact, know that the proprietary firmware in use does not have some kind of rootkit or other hazardous code installed?

In my opinion, it is clear that free firmware has several benefits to the computing world, and that proprietary firmware has very real hazards. I think it’s wonderful that the Free Software Foundation is working on a free BIOS, but I also believe that with most hardware, that we are dependent on the hardware manufacturers to release specifications and code. Hopefully, as time passes, the free software movement would have more funding to take the kind of action required to fix this. If there is enough funding to re-design hardware from scratch, based on open technologies, standards and software, then this problem can be eliminated. Some projects have proved that open hardware is both viable and profitable. A good example is Digium, who produces open hardware for PBX systems (most likely to be used with Asterisk, the free PBX software suite). There is also the OpenMoko project, which has done awesome work writing free implementations of the firmware and software required to operate the hardware on a cellular phone. This has already had positive spin-off results, such as the Dash Express GPS system, which is based on the hardware design of the Neo1973.

Many top programmers have objected to binary only modules, quoting Linus Torvalds:

Basically, I want people to know that when they use binary-only modules,
it's THEIR problem.  I want people to know that in their bones, and I
want it shouted out from the rooftops.  I want people to wake up in a
cold sweat every once in a while if they use binary-only modules.

So, please think carefully before dismissing non-free firmware as just an innocent part of hardware. Many people who do things like that often have alterior motives, and quite honestly, I don’t trust them.

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Becta advises against Windows Vista in Britain schools

Education, Free Software 3 Comments »

Becta (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency), which governs technology use in schools, has advised schools not to upgrade to Windows Vista or Microsoft Office 2007. The reasons for this suggestion revolves around new licensing restrictions and higher costs, as well as compatibility issues in Microsoft’s new products. Furthermore, they also advise schools to investigate Linux-based products and OpenOffice.org.

Personally, I find it strange that Microsoft is continuing to alienate the people that should matter to them most- their customers. Every few weeks, it seems that there is an entire new industry that is angry and frustrated with Microsoft. Even Bill Gates seems embarrassed about Windows Vista. I truly feel sorry for him (empathetically), he spent such a large amount of energy and passion building up Microsoft, and then his underlings make such a mess of it. I guess that’s the price you have to pay for being greedy.

I personally believe that Free Software is the only logical choice for mass-deployment in education environments, and also that pretty much everyone is going about it the wrong way currently, but that’s another post…

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KDE 4.0 in Debian and Ubuntu

Free Software No Comments »

Tomorrow is the release of KDE 4, one of the most eagerly awaited software releases for 2008, and it’s interesting to see how the various GNU/Linux distributions are coping with it.


In Debian, they will be shipping with KDE 3.5 (most likely 3.5.9), since KDE 4 will not yet ship with all the components that a user would expect. The biggest part that is missing is the Kontact groupware client suite. Debian users will however, be able to download and install KDE 4.0 from experimental. Read all about it in the debian-devel-announce post from the Debian Qt/KDE team, I enjoyed the part at the end:

P.S.: Anyway, you never know what the future will bring, we will review our decisitions with respect shipping KDE 4 in Lenny in a few months.

So anything possible, I think it would be really cool if a user could easily install KDE 4.0 in Lenny if they wanted to.


Ubuntu (or I should rather say Kubuntu), is more future orientated, and follows its philosophy of release early and release often. The Kubuntu team will maintain both KDE 4 and KDE 3.5 packages for Ubuntu 8.04, which means that users get easy access to both the latest cutting edge software, and they get to use the rock solid, tried and tested version if they need to do so. Future Kubuntu development will however, be focussed on KDE 4, read the post by Jonathan Riddell to the kubuntu-devel list for the details.

The downside is that the Kubuntu packages for 8.04 won’t fall under the Canonical LTS (Long Term Support) banner. I don’t think this is a problem though, within a year we will probably see a KDE 4.1 release, which would be much more complete and bullet proof, and I doubt anyone would actually want to run KDE 4.0 after 18 months when there would be vastly superior versions available. I think both these distributions made sane decisions. I’m not really following what the other distributions will be doing, but I’m sure there will be lots of noise about it after tomorrow :)

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Ubuntu 7.10 lets YOU choose your level of freedom

Free Software 17 Comments »

People seem to have quite high expectations of Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy), and to be honest, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. Gutsy seems to be shaping up to be the best Ubuntu release ever, and it’s due for release next Thursday (18 October).There’s one particular aspect of Gutsy that I think is more important than most, and that is that it allows you to choose your level of freedom. I’d even go as far to say that this is an historic Linux distribution release, because of that.

1. Restricted manager

While not new in Gutsy, it does have a good deal of improvements. Restricted manager educates the user about proprietary drivers, firmware and other software that is required to make their hardware work. In the screenshot below, Restricted Manager warns me that my laptop requires non-free drivers if I’d like to use my modem. I haven’t had a use for a dial-up modem in years, so I just leave it disabled.

Restricted manager

2. Firefox integration for downloading flash plugins

This is a much-needed improvement, users often complain about installing flash plugins. Now, it’s easier to install both free and non-free implementations of flash. When you access a site that requires a flash plugin, and you don’t yet have it installed, Firefox will display a prompt where you can either install the proprietary Adobe Flash plugin, or the bleeding edge technology preview version of the GNU Gnash plugin.

Choose flash plugin

The required packages are then installed using Ubuntu’s own package management system, as opposed to Firefox’s plugin system- excellent!

3. Add/remove software

As the Restricted Manager, this is not new in Gutsy either, but I thought this fits in nicely with the other features. The Ubuntu add/remove program makes it easy for users to distinguish whether they’re installing proprietary or free software, and which of that is officially supported in Ubuntu. It wasn’t always like that, so I’m very glad to see that the Ubuntu team has managed to make and keep it simple for the users.

4. Gobuntu

Gobuntu Logo

Last, but most certainly not least, is Gobuntu. Originally there was going to be an Ubuntu build that was going to be called Gnubuntu, which contains 100% free software, and no proprietary firmware or drivers at all. Richard Stallman objected to the name, and it then became Ubuntu Libre, and was finally released as Gnewsense.

In Gutsy, the original idea behind Gnewsense is taken further. Gobuntu, the latest addition to the Ubuntu family, will not only ship with no restricted drivers by default, but it will also ship with no non-free images or artwork (that’s the ultimate ideal, at least). I’m not 100% sure whether this has actually been achieved for Gutsy yet, looking at the gobuntu-desktop metapackage, it seems that it still uses Firefox instead of Iceweasel. I think that the Hardy release of Gobuntu will be much more pure. If you have the time/energy resources, please join the gobuntu-devel mailing list and contribute to this project!


Whether you want to do the right thing and use free software wherever possible, or whether you need to install additional proprietary software that you require to do your work or have some fun, Ubuntu 7.10 makes it easier for you to choose. Kudos to the Ubuntu team and management for doing such a great job. I don’t think there’s any other distribution that currently makes it this easy to stick with 100% pure free software AND that makes it so easy to optionally install proprietary software.

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