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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

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/

Read more

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.

Read more

Why replace Windows with Linux?

There are important things to consider before undertaking the task of replacing Windows with Linux, which will save you time and energy further down the line.

Are you a technical user yourself?

If so, I’m assuming you’re doing this for yourself – great! I’m sure you are as excited as the next Linux geek to be doing this, and that you’ve thought out your own reasons. Far from me to stop you.

Are you a non-technical user?

If you are looking to make the jump from Windows to Linux, may I firstly say, congratulations on the choice! Secondly, however, please note a few of things beforehand:

  • Linux is not Windows. Normally, you cannot run exactly the same programs you did as you used under Windows – namely the most popular Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Internet Explorer, or any other software intended for Windows only.
  • Linux does however provide some tools to try and force Windows applications to run, but it’s not foolproof – Internet Explorer can be made to run, and some have had success getting Microsoft Office to be usable. Adobe Suite has proven problematic.
  • The best thing to do, however, is to use their Free Software equivalents: LibreOffice in lieu of MS Office (note that LibreOffice is available for WIndows too!), Firefox in lieu of Internet Explorer; and the GNU Image Manipulation Program (aka The GIMP) in lieu of Photoshop.
  • There are myriad other programs, readily and Freely available to you on secure online software repositories, accessible straight from your computer’s software manager. Some of them, like LibreOffice, are available to you on Windows too, but most are Linux-only!
  • You may want to have a technically savvy person help you during your switch over time, as you will doubtless have many questions. Having a helping hand is always beneficial, and migrating incorrectly might cause you to loose data. Again, Linux is not Windows, and whilst it should be easy for you to use once installed, you need to have a lengthy talk about what the differences actually are.

Are you migrating a non-technical user?

Here be dragons. Before you migrate them, you have to absolutely clear that

  • they will not be getting Windows. Even with Wine, programs they used under Windows will not always run perfectly
  • they will be getting a whole new system, that runs a ton of other programs, some of which very similar to the Windows programs they’re used to

Also, this is a conversation to have at length with them – not something to be telling them as you insert the installer DVD into the drive. It will be such a change for them that it’ll be as strenuous a decision as to whether to move homes – minus the money, but with all other practical considerations, in terms of change.

Remember also that with non-rolling releases, you will need to reinstall the OS from time to time, so ongoing maintenance is to be considered. Most pertinently, make sure you do separate the /home directory to a new partition.

What about Mac OS X?

Apple are a tricky bunch. They’re making sure nobody other than them can fully support an alternative OS on the machines they build, so at the current point in time, switching a Mac to Linux is a bit more involved… Read more

Ubuntu Community Council Still Vague About Derivatives’ Licensing

A few months back, Clément Lefebvre of the Linux Mint project hinted at ongoing discussions about licensing access to binaries from Canonical – and a lot of speculation arose around this, but beyond Clem’s initial statement, and DistroWatch’s Jessie Smith’s insight, we haven’t heard anything official until Thursday 13th Feb, when the Ubuntu Community Council issued a statement on the matter:

http://fridge.ubuntu.com/2014/02/13/community-council-statement-on-canonical-package-licensing/

(For those who are confused about how binaries might be withheld when source code is free: see my notes lower down.)

KDE and Kubuntu blogger and developer Jonathan Riddell posted a piece stating that no derivatives of Kubuntu would need to pay a license: http://blogs.kde.org/2014/02/14/no-licence-needed-kubuntu-derivative-distributions

At the same time Silviu Stahie posts on Softpedia an article stating that derivatives do have to pay: http://news.softpedia.com/news/Canonical-Explains-Why-Linux-Mint-and-All-Other-Distros-Must-Sign-a-License-Agreement-426770.shtml

Confused by this, I went and read the council’s statement, and found that the meat of the text is in only a couple of sentences:

“Canonical already provides a license for the use of these [trademarks] to the Ubuntu project and all of its distributions, including Ubuntu itself as well as those flavors that are developed in collaboration with it.”

So far so good: a trademark license agreement is in place at Canonical, and the official distro and all the official derivatives are granted it.

“We believe there is no ill-will against Linux Mint, from either the Ubuntu community or Canonical and that Canonical does not intend to prevent them from continuing their work, and that this license is to help ensure that. What Linux Mint does is appreciated, and we want to see them succeed.”

And this part simply says that they appreciate what the Mint project is doing. Nowhere does it say that Mint has been granted license of the binaries, nor does it say license is being revoked or granted, nor that payment is being demanded at all, nor whether they are foregoing the idea of fees.

In essence, the communication says nothing decisive – only that a license regarding trademarks exists, and that it needs to be granted, but not whether payment must be made. It doesn’t even say whether any agreement has been reached.

The way I read it, it’s a call to the community to say “tone down your nattering whilst we sort this out, and stop making assumptions about what we’re thinking before we even have a chance to say something. Give us time to agree amongst ourselves first.” Too many cooks and all that.

If Canoncial did decide to charge licensing, would this request be legal?

Regardless of the trademarks (which I don’t think are surreptitiously disseminated amongst the packes in the repos, that’s just “conspiracy theory” as far as I can tell), the question remains for many as to whether Canonical even has the right to require payment.

The GPL and similar licenses require the source code of a program to be provided, but does not prevent anyone from selling their compiled binary. A purchaser of the binary can then go on to distribute this to others free of charge (providing they have the corresponding source code too) – so even if a derivative were made to pay a license fee to its parent distro, it could subsequently re-distribute the binary to users for free.

Alternatively, it could simply take the Free source and compile and host it in their own repository, but that is costly in both time and hardware, so it’s handy for all the derivatives to be able to use Canonical’s repos directly.

If Canonical were to decide to request payment for accessing their binaries directly from their servers (a service) even while the sources of the software are Free, that could undermine the derivate projects, if only for a while, until a Ubuntu-compatible independent repo were created, that is, a repo which took the sources and repacked them for Ubuntu-based distros.

But from a binary-licensing standpoint, I see no legal issue in Canonical doing this. Let;s see how it all plays out.

Read more in the GNU GPL FAQ.

About that: Growing the Desktop Linux Community

I have a great interest in growing Desktop Linux as a community – being able to learn about the system and do all sorts of things with it is fine and dandy, but when you still have to deal with the Real World that uses closed source systems en masse, you find that your system is still a fringe consideration, not worthy of time and investment by others, with vendors only making software for the closed systems, and your knowledge only has limited use when helping your peers with desktop problems. I like helping my peers with the knowledge that I gain. And I’m sure that people I help are happy to have someone who can help them.

Over at OStatic, Jon Buys has written a piece calling on the community to stop bickering and getting into flame wars, and start bringing productive input to the table, so as to make the Linux Community a welcoming and intelligent place. I couldn’t agree more. But that alone will not swell our numbers. Read more

Mounting Drives in Linux

Byte City

Mounting drives in Linux is a task that sometimes needs to be performed when the auto-mounting mechanism doesn’t apply, and for neophytes can be challenging. The forums are replete with problems about mounting drives, the system not mounting drives upon plugging in the USB or inserting a CD, and permissions confusions.

The following post aims to explain as many parts of the manual process as reasonable, covering the /dev folder, mount and umount commands, fstab, umask and some particularities on filesystems and newly created disks.

The topic is fairly heavy, with many offshoot topics, and I want to keep this post as straight-to-the-task as possible, so a lot of the explanations will urge you to look up info elsewhere if you want more in-depth discussion. Generally, doing a web search on the name in underlined italics will be sufficient. I also use bold text for example snippets that you’ll need to replace, and pink text for text you would type at the command line, with green monospace text reserved for output.

Questions answered

  • How do I mount my USB key in Linux?
  • Why does my USB always mount as root?
  • How do I automatically mount a drive in Linux?
  • Why can’t I write to my USB in Linux?
  • How do I use the mount command?

Read more

About that: why are we still writing programs using text-based languages?


PCPro.co.uk has an article on graphical programming

Programming is a fairly specialist activity, requiring a different manner of thinking to operate in. Some programming languages try to be friendly in terms of words, symbols and grammar used to write the code (syntax) – but it still tends to be an initial hurdle to get past.

An asker on Slashdot had the following question today:

“…why are we still writing text based code? Shouldn’t there be a simpler, more robust way to translate an algorithm into something a computer can understand? One that’s language agnostic and without all the cryptic jargon? It seems we’re still only one layer of abstraction from assembly code. Why have graphical code generators that could seemingly open coding to the masses gone nowhere?”

The /. editor added:

Of interest on this topic, a thoughtful look at some of the ways that visual programming is often talked about.

Here are my thoughts:

For the TL/DR: graphical programming is inefficient, and error prone; better methods of viewing source code during read-back is more interesting.

Read more