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Call it “Open Source Free Software”

Freedom and Open Fields

I ranted previously about my annoyance at the name “Free Software,” wherein the name is too easily misconstrued to mean freebie (but still proprietary) software like Dropbox, or the Yahoo toolbar. Further thinking about the naming issue, I ended up deciding to call it “Open Source Free Software” instead.

There are two adjective groups in the name: “Open Source” and “Free”, with the latter being interpretable in two ways: freedom and freebie.

Due to the way adjectives apply in English, “Free [Open Source Software]” sounds like it is in opposition to a futile notion of “Proprietary Open Source Software.” More popularly, with the emphasis on “Free”, we end up with the same issue of looking like we could be talking about sketchy downloads.

“Open Source [Free Software]” on the other hand moves the emphasis to the openness, and is in opposition only to “closed source proprietary software,” since “closed source libre software” makes no sense. Even if the listener misunderstands “Free,” they can still understand that it is open to tinkering – which is the freedom we want anyhow.

Open Source
Free(dom) code is open, software promotes user freedom
Free(bies) code is open but copyrighted – we can study it to make a Free(dom) version

Thus we focus on openness as a vehicle for software freedom, instead of leaving potentially damaging emphasis on an ambiguous word.

Varying “Free” on its interpretation against openness/closedness, we get:

Open Source Closed source
Free(dom) code is open, software promotes user freedom Makes no sense
Free(bies) code is open but copyrighted – we can study it to make a Free(dom) version code is closed and copyrighted – the kind of software the FSF are against

There is still a question about whether to include blobs or not in the open source project, since doing so would disqualify it from being Free. This would still have been discussed anyhow however.

The point is, emphasising openness more easily leads to a discussion on freedom. Emphasising “Free-ness” just makes people shy away – not because of the implications of “freedom” but because of the warning flags around “freebies.”

For the sake of the Linux Desktop: forget about Linux.

There is no such thing as “Linux” as an operating system. Yet we all think we’re marching under the same banner when we’re clearly not. Between desktop environments, package managers, display managers and the rest, we’re a highly uncoordinated bunch. If anyone from the outside should dare ask for a consistent response, they’re greeted with everything from hand-holding to cold shrugs, from slaps on the back to slaps in the face.

I am not proposing that we as techies forget about Linux, nor that we let individual projects’ managers and leaders forget about the community and their Open Source Free Software roots – but to recognize that whilst for us “Linux” is a selling point, for the masses that drive adoption and support, the label “Linux” is a big turn-off.

From a technologists’ standpoint, when we talk about Linux, we all generally know what we mean: a kernel that forms the core of a vast series of operating systems, of which Android which isn’t a GNU/Linux but is nonetheless powered by the Linux kernel.

For persons outside of the tech-sphere, the concept of “Linux” is at best a moot point, if not an actual source of confusion. Numerous times, we’ve tried to explain what “distro” means and why there are different “desktop environments,” whilst applications are downloaded by “package managers” from “repositories”… all of this heavily discussed in “the community.”

The Curse of Choice

For us techies, choice is good. In Linux-land, choice is sacred. To us, choice is Freedom.

To the average person, choice is Hell.

Distro flame wars aside, there’s the obvious fractioning of the developer community. Some develop for KDE, some for GNOME, some independently. Some have packaged for DEB whilst RPM riders have to get the tarball. Arch always gets a tarball. Notifications and panel icons aren’t always there in all desktop environments. And all the varieties.

Even if you try to not stray far and stay on “the most popular distro for newbies” a.k.a. Ubuntu, you still have Lubuntu, Xubuntu and Kubuntu confusion, with Linux Mint and Linux Mint Debian, each with Cinnamon and MATE flavours, close behind. Newbie asks how to change their desktop and are asked in return “what desktop environment are you using?” The newbie answers, “I dunno, it’s blue, I want it to be pink.”

Try telling Average Joe that Manjaro (Xfce), CentOS (GNOME 2), Ubuntu (Unity) and Chrome OS (Chrome) are all Linux whilst merrily swapping through screenshots. They’ll ask you what tea you’ve been snorting. Kinda like showing up at a botanists’ convention and being told that apples, hazelnuts and tomatoes are all fruit, broccoli and artichokes are actually flowers, and that all of them are, indeed, classified under “Vegetable.” The geeks know this. The rest of us model the ecosystem in a very different way.

Hand holding

The other issue is the consistent inability for techies to grasp the very idea that installing a new OS is fraught with danger and uncertainty for a non-tinkerer. Consumers have heard that Linux is hard. They’ve heard it doesn’t run Windows. (Or Windows applications). They’ve heard it might void their warranty. We reassure them that it isn’t hard, to try it, and next thing you know they’ve hosed their data, their printer can’t be found right in front of them and what’s all that scary text on the screen?

And yet we repeatedly see the technology blogs preaching to the choir, “Why DistroX is great replacement for Windows XP” with that chipper encouragement to “give it a go” — like the kind of person who would keep XP for so long would know exactly what to do after reading the article!

There have been plenty of stories in forums, podcasts and so forth where so-and-so managed to put their grandma on Linux Mint and she loved it; or moved their dad to Ubuntu on Unity, so what’s the fuss; or the uber-geek who moved their wife onto a Gentoo or Arch setup and with them at the ready to help, their loved one was absolutely fine. Those are, no doubt, great wins on individual levels, but is kind of a moot point on their own, and still collectively amount to little much than a pat-on-the-head level of success.

But then there are the bigger, more ambitious goals: the City of Munich famously distributing Ubuntu 12.04 CDs for free in the public libraries was one. Whilst the City successfully completed their migration with a host of consultants and internal IT technicians, out in the town, how many people knew what to do with these Ubuntu CDs? Free coasters? Pocket-mirrors to store in your glove compartment? Arts and crafts projects? And did all the gendarmes in France start coming home declaring “ma chérie! I am going to replace the Windows on our PC with Linux?” Mais oui bien sûr, Maurice.

Any time you point out how difficult it is for the average user to install Linux, thousands of commenters are poised at the ready to tell you how easy it is. And I concur that, for me and you, it is dead simple. For grandad and the arts major who pointedly shied away from the school ICT course, installing a new OS is a big freaking deal.

The enthusiasts who are dead set on convincing us that it’s easy have never actually sat down and talked to an actual user. No doubt they’ve gone and done the install for them, and heard “oh it wasn’t so hard then!” after they had gone and done all the hard work.

In reality, if you were to leave an average user to do the switch on their own, you’d need to write a complete manual, many pages long. And that’s just to install the system. There’s a fair amount of IT to be learned before you can go thwack your PC with a new OS. You’ll probably find after a few weeks that Windows is still on their computer and the manual has found its useful place levelling a table leg.

Seriously, have you ever tried to have the conversation about replacing someone’s desktop with Linux when they’re not a close acquaintance and you’re not going to be on hand at their every issue?

Sure there’s a fantastic community out there – of techies speaking techno-babble.

Even in AskUbuntu which is supposed to be the forum of the “most popular distro” (read: the distro that has the lowest skill barrier for entrance) the speak there rapidly becomes super-technical for anyone who hasn’t tried to understand their computer before.

Forget that it’s “Linux”

Ubuntu has dropped the word “Linux” from its name and I don’t think it’s that bad a thing. Sure Free Software purists will be railing against their decisions on Convenience over Freedom, but face it: even when we do away with the ethical and philosophical discussion, getting people to switch from one technology to another, core technology that changes everything about they way they operate on a practical level, introduces a whole load of issues and fears, and just saying “you’re freer” will win you not votes.

Most people are actually absolutely fine with “software Freedom” and would gladly shy away from lock-in and software slavery dungeons of Windows and OS X – but if it means they’re out in the cold of Fedora or Trisqel to fend for themselves in a world they were never brought up in, they’re most gladly consciously choose their old masters. When you’re a slave of the castle, you can either keep serving or run away into the wilderness, hoping you have enough survival skills to patch wounds and pick the right berries, let alone stay safe from the wolves and the natural elements around you.

For me, Ubuntu (or rather, Xubuntu) is [an] answer. Ubuntu just being “Ubuntu OS” allows provider companies something to home in on. Those of us riding all manner of Linux – Fedora, Arch, Trisqel and the likes – can deal with hardware intricacies, repackaging Ubuntu-oriented packages and such; let software authors just focus on supporting “Ubuntu Linux” (and let’s ensure they do it as Open Source if not Free Software); and let members of the general public the option to say “I’m running Ubuntu.”

By letting average users just think in terms of a coherent brand, we can move them to a platform that prepares them that much more for Freedom, and improves the state of support for Linux as a whole, removing over time the practical barriers to adoption. Imagine the state of consumer desktops where Ubuntu has mostly replaced Windows, and where the average user still doesn’t know they’re using Linux. Imagine Canonical does something…. rash and unethical. The move from Ubuntu to Mint, CentOS or OpenSUSE is so much easier to do both from a “sell” point and a practical point of view, because we’re not switching the ecosystem. And to average users, this is seamless. There are no questions about supported apps or document compatibility.

Saying “I have an Ubuntu” allows us to know that it’s consumer. After all, we don’t ask Mac users to recognise they are running BSD, nor Windows users to know that their “NT kernel” is insecure.

Running “Linux” is still (and will probably always remain) a badge of technical honour. Saying one is running “Ubuntu Linux” is still running Ubuntu as a technician. Just let the average person have their plain “Ubuntu” and be happy.

Sony Walkman MTP workarounds…

This post answers the questions:

  • What is MTP (Media Transfer Protocol)?
  • How can I manage files on my media device by simply copying files?
  • How do I manage a MTP USB device through the file manager on Linux?
  • How do I use jmptfs?

So… I’ve just gone and bought a little Sony Walkman Series B and was looking forward to trying it out on my Xubuntu 14.04 install with Clementine.

The Walkman Series B comes with an integrated USB connector for transfer and recharging, which I plugged into a USB 3.0 port. Alas, rather than using a common interface such as the block file system, the device uses the Media Transfer Protocol only interface.

Media Transfer Protocol is a way that a device such as a phone, camera or music player can show itself to the computer, and generally requires special software to add/remove files to. To wit:

Problem #1 – after double-clicking the desktop icon, it took a few seconds to mount, during which I double-clicked it again (thinking my taps on the touchpad may have been too light…) and was presented with a “could not mount” error. Ouch. But it mounted after that.

Problem #2 – it was not mounted as a block device (read: regular hard disk) but as a MTP transfer. Maybe it’s Thunar, or maybe it’s an inherent limitation in the protocol, but this did not allow me to move/add/delete files at all.

Problem #3 – After firing up Clementine, it seems the device was detected as practically full. I had a number of Clementine crashes over my various attempts at copying files from my library over as well. Ghastly procedure.

Workaround – after doing a little bit of reading up, I found that the most seamless solution was to mount the device as a block file system by way of an added library called “jmtpfs” installed following the incantation

sudo apt-get install jmtpfs

Now you can use the command line to mount and unmount the first MTP device found using various commands. I opted to create a script to do this for me: I created a script in my ~/bin directory (which is already in my path) called “mmtpfs” containing:

#! /bin/bash

MTPMAIN=~/mmtpfs
MTPDIR=$MTPMAIN/$2

if [ "${1}k" = '-mk' ]; then
    mkdir -p $MTPDIR
    jmtpfs $MTPDIR
elif [ "${1}k" = '-uk' ]; then
    fusermount -u $MTPDIR
    rmdir $MTPDIR # only removes end directory if empty
    rmdir $MTPMAIN
else
    echo Help:
    cat << EOT
Mount the first MTP device to ~/media/MOUNTDIR

Only specify the name of a directory as MOUNTDIR

Mount device:
    $0 -m MOUNTDIR

Unount device:
    $0 -u MOUNTDIR
EOT
fi

Now I can just open the terminal and type

mmtpfs -m sony

To mount the device or

mmtpfs -u sony

to unmount the device. I might make a Zenity script and a .desktop entry to make it even easier to manage should I have to add this to a user’s configuration.

About that: getting out of walled gardens by using Blockchain?

ReadWrite is runnning a piece touting Blockchain as the panacea to solving the problem of Walled Gardens (because these in themselves are somehow stifling innovation).

The article does a poor job as far as I can tell, from reading it and from seeing the comments, of linking the two aspects, and I had to read a bit further to understand why this is potentially a game changer. Personally, I’m not sure it is. Below is the comment I added to the article:

Blockchain is a protocol that ensures identification and integreity of a piece of data and its iteration in time.

Apps are created and delivered in a walled garden. Where’s the connection?

I did go and read some of the linked articles and I think I can see where this was meant to be going:

The idea is that we want to develop apps that can leverage the power of “App+Could” type systems – that is, having an app that accesses your data online – without seeing your data being siloed into that company’s server forever more.

For example, a notepad app, with lots of your notes in it, accessible from all of your devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, watch, fridge [hey, you might have a shopping list note]). Your data is stored somewhere online, on some company’s cloud infrastructure, and all these apps query that company’s server.

Now if your data is in a peer-to-peer store, using a blockchain-encoded transaction to modify it, then its data is also distributed around the Internet, with changes in the data recognized and stored by the network. I guess the goal is to move the data to a truly disembodied cloud, and not just pigeon holes.

So you change a line in your shopping list on your fridge. The entire network validates this, changes the corresponding peered data, and that change is spread, verifying against the blockchain for the latest status. Your data is stored peer to peer, potentially anonymized and encrypted (ha!), and is resilient to deletion.

However we still have walled gardens where the actual apps have restrictions on their on-device functionality, and we cann’t necessarily control what servers they actually talk to. The reason apps are more interesting than mobile browsers is the interaction with the hardware on the device.

So it’s an interesting start, but so long as there are practical advantages of using an app, we won’t escaped walled gardens on mobile devices.

In the mean time, if you’re really concerned about walling, try open source, try full computers, and try the real world. We’re all over here making stuff. Innovating freely.

Don’t call it “Free Software”

[This is as much of an essay as it is a complete rant. Take with a teaspoon of salt ;-)]

Arguably the worst thing about Free Software is its name.

There is a perpetual need for its advocates and proponents, such as I, to repeatedly re-explain ad nauseam why we mean “freedom” and not “freebies” when we talk about Free Software.

Just mention “free software” to one uninitiated and they think “freebies.” They either systematically think about not having to pay for a full version of Photoshop or MS Windows, or if they’re more sapient they worry about get rich quick scams, too-good-to-be-true-alarm-bells ringing. They think “yeah, like, illegal downloads, right?”

All this because in his ideological genius, Our Beardy Leader decided to stick with a nomencalture he knew was confusing, all because he wanted to use the word “Free” in one sense, when the rest of the world understood it in the alternative sense.

Here’s the thing: “Free [Things]” has for decades, if not a century or two, meant specifically: [Things] for zeros dollars. It was there first. Vox populi (aided by decades of marketing).

What we’re trying to do here, in muscling the adoption of “Free Software” to mean anything other than “freeware,” is to try and change the popular definition of a word from a top-down, prescriptive stance, against the already perpetuated alternative definition.

For someone so hung up with words as to clearly advise against calling Free Software an “alternative,” “because it conveys the wrong idea,” Our Beardy Leader seems to be oblivious of the fact that to the common ear, “Free Software” (the idealogical kind) and “free software” (the freebie kind) are one and the same.

They are. They are free. Look up the dictionary definition, you’ll find “available at no cost.” The common person could care less about the alternative definition; if they got it for free, then they got it free. Free. “Gay” means homosexual today, the idea it originally conveyed of being joyous is relegated to the past, like it or not. Similarly, where “free” can indeed mean freedom, the “Free” in “Free Software” also conveys the wrong idea, but Our Beardy Leader isn’t complaining about that.

All our exasperated lot on the ground can do at best is preach to the choir that understands Free as in “free speech,” or come across as pontificating pedants when we patiently explain for the thousandth time that Free Software does not include the likes of Angry Birds Free Edition and the OS X Mavericks free upgrade.

If you need to explain even the name of something to mitigate against being lumped in with your adversaries, you’ve clearly done a bad job at barnding. Like a health food company naming itself after its founder, McDonell. “Unshackled Software” would be a much better name to pointedly insist on freedom. Unweildy perhaps, but it gets that idea of freedom accross WITHOUT lumping itself in with warez and no-dollars-but-pay-with-your-data kind of schenanigans we’re trying to get away from.

Our Beardy Leader bemoans how the Open Source camp “missed the point” but to be honest, they know this “Free/Free” malarky was just plain stupid; and when said Beardy Leader decided to denounce the use of “FOSS,” ugly acronym as it is, for being too on-the-fence, it was he who missed the point: the opportunity to recognize that “Free AND Open Source” could be taken, in the infancy of the term, to mean “both at once or not at all” in true programming spirit. But no, he chose to stay with the then still influenceable interpretation of it as a colloquial “union” operation instead of a conditional test.

Yes, in calling it “Free Software” Our Beardy Leader decided to go against the common person’s understanding of “Free;” but in talking about “Free And Open Source Software” he just let the common definition through!

So I’ll just call it FOSS, by which to mean “Free Open Source Software.” I think it is perfectly feasible, if not much more powerful, in getting the Freedom message accross, whilst at the same time minimizing the risk of being misconstrued.

Manjaro and the AUR

20130715_004117

I’ve been working with Manjaro in a VM for a few weeks, which I use on my work laptop — I don’t want ot have my personal files and browsing history directly inside my work environment, so the VM stands in as my “home” machine when at work.

I’ve also given a friend an old laptop of mine on which I installed Manjaro 0.8.8 and for the most part, I think it has been fine (I checked up with her later, and she still didn’t have any help questions for me, so far so good then…)

Mostly, Manjaro works great out of the box. However there is one area I feel is not quite as smooth from an end-user perspective: the AUR. Read more

Running Krita on a Mac using WineBottler

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 16.39.13

Calligra Krita, developed by KO Gmbh, has finally made it onto Windows! It’s a dedicated digital painting application best used with an artist tablet, more specialized than Photoshop or GIMP, with a focus on producing digital painting, options for comic layouts and all manner of tools.

Born in the Free Software community and available initially only on Linux, its Windows port is very welcome… but leaves Mac users out in the cold.

I decided to see if I could get Krita for Windows to work on a Mac, since Macports and Homebrew do not seem to carry it in their repos, and the last version on Fink was updated for OS X 10.6.

It was mostly a success, but unfortunately I was unable to get pressure sensing from my Wacom Bamboo CTL470 in the Krita app. I’m not sure if it’s just my device that doesn’t play well with Wine or if it’s a general issue… For the record, it works fine with Krita in Windows in VirtualBox.

The following are instructions on how to get Krita to run on a Mac using WineBottler. If anybody could determine what the final missing piece is, I’d be very appreciative! Read more

Meaty Noodle Soup (optionally spicy)

This is what I usually have for lunch nearly every day, as I have the priviledge of working from home these days. It gives me the warmth of soup, the ease of noodles, greens I sorely lack otherwise and… meat.

Here’s one I made earlier with tat soi – it’s the stem base in the middle :-)

Beef Noodle Soup with Tat Soi

Beef Noodle Soup with Tat Soi

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The Kingdom of Prosol and the Village of Fresol

A little allegorical tale about Proprietary, Free and Open Source :-)

If you’re looking for a tale to introduce the concept of freedom of software to younger generations, or people who just “don’t get computers,” take this one and run (with) it :-)

I’ve tried to maintain as many parallels as possible to the story of Free Software, for the fun of it, but also to be able to enable points of discussion. I’ve deliberately kept to generic characters and actions so as to remain general, and allowing anyone else to build upon the story. On that note…

Unlike a bard of olde, I have at my disposal two extra tools: the Internet, and Copyright Law. Regarding the latter:

I release this text under the Creative Commons License 4.0 Attribution-ShareAlike

You may copy, adapt and redistribute the work, even commercially, PROVIDED you grant this same license to the derivative work.

You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

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RedHat’s EULA restrictions and the GPLv2

I’ve been trying to figure out whether RedHat’s restrictions of redistribution of their binary has legal basis (I’m pretty sure it does, it’s an elephant in the proverbial room), but I wanted to be sure, know it as fact.

I’ve been poring over the GPLv2 that many have been using, including RedHat, as well as the GPLv3 which is the latest as of the time of writing, trying to figure this one out since nobody seems to have published anything clear on the matter.

RedHat’s EULA (end user license agreement) reads:

WHILE THIS LICENSE AGREEMENT ALLOWS YOU TO COPY, MODIFY AND DISTRIBUTE THE SOFTWARE, IT DOES NOT PERMIT YOU TO DISTRIBUTE THE SOFTWARE UTILIZING RED HAT’S TRADEMARKS

This is a point of contention that has been raised many times – searching “redhat gpl violation” brings up a number of locations in which community members have claimed that RedHat violates GPLv2 by imposing this additional “clever” restriction.

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