Free, Libre, Open Source Software

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The GPL is not magic pixie dust. It does not work by itself.
The first step is to choose a copyleft license for your code.
The next step is, when someone fails to follow that copyleft license, it must be enforced
and its a simple fact of our modern society that such type of work
is incredibly expensive to do and incredibly difficult to do.

-- Bradley Kuhn, in FaiF episode 0x57

As the Debian Website used to imply, public domain and permissively licensed software can lead to the production of more proprietary software as people discover useful software, extend it and or incorporate it into their hardware or software products. Copyleft licenses such as the GNU GPL were created to close off this avenue to the production of proprietary software but such licenses are not enough. With the ongoing adoption of Free Software by individuals and groups, inevitably the community's expectations of license compliance are violated, usually out of ignorance of the way Free Software works, but not always. As Karen and Bradley explained in FaiF episode 0x57, copyleft is nothing if no-one is willing and able to stand up in court to protect it. The reality of today's world is that legal representation is expensive, difficult and time consuming. With gpl-violations.org in hiatus until some time in 2016, the Software Freedom Conservancy (a tax-exempt charity) is the major defender of the Linux project, Debian and other groups against GPL violations. In March the SFC supported a lawsuit by Christoph Hellwig against VMware for refusing to comply with the GPL in relation to their use of parts of the Linux kernel. Since then two of their sponsors pulled corporate funding and conferences blocked or cancelled their talks. As a result they have decided to rely less on corporate funding and more on the broad community of individuals who support Free Software and copyleft. So the SFC has launched a campaign to create a community of folks who stand up for copyleft and the GPL by supporting their work on promoting and supporting copyleft and Free Software.

If you support Free Software, like what the SFC do, agree with their compliance principles, are happy about their successes in 2015, work on a project that is an SFC member and or just want to stand up for copyleft, please join Christopher Allan Webber, Carol Smith, Jono Bacon, myself and others in becoming a supporter. For the next week your donation will be matched by an anonymous donor. Please also consider asking your employer to match your donation or become a sponsor of SFC. Don't forget to spread the word about your support for SFC via email, your blog and or social media accounts.

Posted Fri Nov 27 03:48:35 2015 Tags: floss

Since it was Software Freedom Day again, I figured I should revisit my personal software freedom and see what has changed since my post two years ago. There hasn't been a vrms meme again this year so I don't have anyone else to compare with. A small survey on IRC indicates folks still need non-free nVidia drivers, embedded software, GNU documentation, Java and more.

Since then I have switched my laptop from the Dell Inspiron 6400 to the Thinkpad X201 Tablet. Nothing really changed with my laptop, GNU documentation is still non-free and the new Intel WiFi chip on my new laptop still uses non-free embedded software. To remind myself of the non-free bits embedded in the hardware (CPU microcode, BIOS, EC etc), I have installed intel-microcode and microcode.ctl.

Since then I didn't get any new phone, still the same OpenMoko FreeRunner. I'm now using QtMoko on a 4GB microSD card and Debian and SHR on other cards for testing. QtMoko is based on Debian and is the latest incarnation of Qtopia. It is probably free but I haven't done any audit of it. One interesting thing that changed with the FreeRunner in the past two years is that Harald Welte and friends started OsmocomBB, a project to create free software for the GSM modem built into the FreeRunner and many old feature-phones. I haven't tried it yet due to lack of time. While at the Chaos Communication Camp 2011 I learnt about the blackbox that SIM cards are (video), which hopefully OsmocomBB has a chance to protect against. AFAIK nothing else has changed to improve software freedom on the FreeRunner, the WiFi, GPS and other parts still contain non-free software with no chance of a replacement in sight.

Since then I am still using the same wireless router and ADSL modem and I wasn't brave enough to try replacing their software. I still use gmail out of intertia, but I at least have started using offlineimap to prepare for the day when I will move away from it. I still use Google Maps, mainly for searching for public transport routes. With my recent travels in Europe I encountered many places where OpenStreetMap has much better coverage than Google. One nice thing about Google Maps adding public transport information is that public transport organisations have been publishing public data feeds for Google to consume. Apparently there is also a realtime variant. I also found one website using a JSON API for Google street view. The combination of these gives me hope for better support for spatial data in free software. The data (aerial and streets) will obviously remain a much longer term freeness issue though.

For flash video on the web get-flash-videos appeared and made it even easier to ignore flash, especially since I got a few patches added to it. In addition Swfdec died but Gnash improved enough to replace it. Lightspark was also created but has so far been pretty buggy and unstable. Free RAR v3 format support appeared in the form of TheUnarchiver. The Voxware audio codec and DigiTrakker MDL files are still not supported by Rhythmbox. Unicode has been updated and so now Debian doesn't support every script fully. I still manage to avoid Skype. The nouveau drivers have matured enough to provide 3D support, multi-monitor support and general stability for the one nVidia card I used in the past two years.

Overall, I'm reasonably happy with my level of software freedom. My main strategy for preventing regressions in my software freedom remains to just avoid doing things that require non-free software. The most problematic FLOSS issues for me are embedded software, spatial data support and Flash support. Please feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Happy Software Freedom Day everyone!

Posted Sun Sep 18 03:59:59 2011 Tags: floss

In March 2009 I contacted Adobe about the self-contradictory nature of the license for the Adobe Glyph List For New Fonts (AGLFN) data. I did so because one of the upstreams I am involved in (fonttools) embeds a copy of aglfn.txt and I noticed the license was a bit strange. An Adobe employee by the name of David Lemon replied to say that the license would become less free than it was. I then asked him to consider using a free software license for both the Adobe CMap and AGLFN data. We discussed the benefits and drawbacks of doing this for both Adobe and the free software community. David was initially skeptical about the balance between benefits and drawbacks for Adobe and I was feeling pessimistic about the situation. The conversation ended and several months passed, with me sending the occasional ping and David being busy. Then in June he told me a new license was coming in a month. So I sent another ping on September 20th to find out what the status of that was. A couple of days later I received a mail saying that the Adobe CMap data has now been released under the BSD license and that the Adobe AGLFN data will soon follow! Please note that while this means that modifications are technically allowed, they are still strongly discouraged for compatibility reasons. Adobe has assigned an emailable maintainer (currently Ken Lunde) for these files so there is no reason that modifications should not be done upstream. You can also edit the wiki to document things or post in the forum. If you happen to meet David, Ken or Dave McAllister (who manages the Open@Adobe program) somewhere, please thank them and offer beverages.

So, what does this mean for free software projects? Debian CJK users will be able to read many more PDFs with CJK characters without using any non-free packages once the new CMap files reach main. I will need to package the new AGLFN data for Debian. I will need to remove the embedded AGLFN from fonttools upstream and adapt it to use the packaged one if available or suggest the user download it if not. GNU Classpath and the other software projects using AGLFN data might like to do the same. I may consider writing a library for loading the AGLFN data, mainly as an exercise in learning how to write a good library though.

Oh, and perhaps I can convince 武藤 健志 (Kenshi MUTO) my minimal level of involvement in this is worth a beer if I ever meet him :D

Posted Thu Sep 24 02:36:06 2009 Tags: floss

Over on Planet Ubuntu there is a VRMS meme winding down. Usually I tend to think web log aggregator memes are an abomination, however, this one is a little more interesting, especially if Debian folk pick it up. It seems like many Planet Ubuntu posters require some non-free stuff, examples include; graphics and other drivers/firmware, Flash (Gnash/Swfdec aren't there yet), Sun Java (despite OpenJDK), RAR 3.0 archives, LHZ archives (despite jlha), Microsoft fonts (despite ttf-liberation), icon themes, ICC profiles, mind mapping, support for codec DLLs from Windows, VirtualBox drivers for Windows, the Opera web browser, games and other things. For Debian users, the popcon information pretty much confirms the above issues. Some other stuff Debian users use that isn't in Debian include; patented codecs, skype, acroread, the non-free version of VirtualBox and more.

Next, lets get in on the getting your meme on part. On my Dell Inspiron 6400 laptop I have following Debian non-free/contrib stuff installed; firmware-iwlwifi, gcc-doc, gcc-doc-base, gcc-4.3-doc, autoconf-doc, gdb-doc, make-doc. On my OpenMoko FreeRunner phone I have nothing installed from Debian non-free/contrib. My wireless router and ADSL modem don't run Debian. The wireless router is a MIPS-based Netgear WGR614L (that is marketed as supporting DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato) so I could conceivably install OpenWRT etc or Debian on it, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. The ADSL modem is a MIPS-based Siemens SpeedStream 4200, but it looks like that would require a significant amount of effort to get running FLOSS.

Lets ponder my laptop freeness a bit more. The docs are all FSF-free, but not DFSG-free. It appears they are not DFSG-free because the FSF will not allow 28 words of FSF/GNU advertising to be removed (I'm not sure if Debian or the FSF is more pedantic). I'm not aware of any DFSG-free alternatives to them and I don't particularly care about the restrictions. My wireless card is an Intel 3945ABG mini PCI card that requires the kernel to upload the iwlwifi firmware before it works. Intel refuse to release firmware source code under a free license, citing FCC requirements. I'm not aware of any free firmware (or firmware reverse engineering efforts) for this device so the only alternative is to use wired Ethernet or buy another wireless card. Ethernet wires everywhere would be very inconvenient, so I've been thinking about trying to replace the card or laptop as soon as I am able. Since Atheros has released GPLv2 firmware for its AR9170 802.11n USB chipset I'll probably get something released by Atheros. I wonder why the FCC didn't prevent Atheros from releasing modifiable firmware, perhaps Intel will change their position too. So, what other software is on my laptop apart from Debian? Lets see, nothing on the HD apart from GRUB 2, /boot containing a Linux image/initrd from Debian and the LUKS partition containing swap and the Debian ext3 rootfs. Coreboot laptop support seems to be in the very early stages so I have no alternative to the supplied Dell BIOS at the moment. There is also the CPU microcode and other firmware installed in the various devices on the system, at least the HD, Ethernet, Bluetooth, GPU, DVD drive etc. have some kind of firmware in them. Some of this firmware is updatable using software from the Dell Linux repositories.

Lets ponder my phone freeness a bit more. On it I have two copies of the u-boot bootloader (one in the protected NOR flash), u-boot is free. The NAND flash has an old Qt Extended Improved (QTEI) install that I need to copy stuff off and wipe. I also have a 4GB microSD card containing QTEI, Debian, FDOM and SHR. Now that QtMoko has brought QTEI to Debian packages I can probably ditch the QTEI install. I read that OM2009 is being merged into SHR so I can get rid of FDOM. That leaves SHR and Debian/QtMoko (nothing non-free). IIRC SHR does contain some firmware for devices that the OpenMoko FreeRunner doesn't contain, but that will get removed as Linux upstream moves more and more of that into linux-firmware.git. Nothing more on the main flash or microSD storage, so what else? The OpenMoko contains lots of hardware, but the main problematic devices here are the AR6000 Wi-Fi chip and the TI Calypso GSM device. The AR6000 is an issue because the firmware embedded in the chip is non-free and FullMAC so it is hard to add new features like AP mode or improve the connection quality/etc. In addition the firmware currently on the device is a development version of a 2.0 version (1.x was apparently broken) and further development does not seem to be happening yet. Since Atheros GPLed the AR9170 firmware I idly wonder if they could be convinced to release the source and GPL the AR6000 firmware. Perhaps a life-size gold statue of RMS would help there. The GSM device is problematic because of various bugs in the firmware. It apparently is an ARM chip with Nucleos, so perhaps uCLinux or something could be ported to it or written for it. There has been at least one discussion about hacking the GSM firmware (thar be dragons). Searching for some keywords extracted from the end of the first mail in that thread lead to some interesting results indeed.

Lets ponder my network freeness a bit more. I should allocate some time to investigate putting Debian on my wireless router and ADSL modem. These generally just work except the ADSL modem reboots itself a lot during the summer. The just-works status of these devices means that messing with them is problematic in case I brick them (luckily I have a spare for the ADSL modem though). I presume OpenWRT and similar have replacements for all the software on my wireless router, drivers may be an issue though. I use gmail for reading email lists, mainly because of intertia, cheapness and because the interface has no GUI FLOSS peers yet (sup-mail exists for console use). TangoGPS, OpenStreetMap and other tools are slowly replacing my use of Google Maps, although I imagine routing will remain an issue for many years yet. One of the tech groups I'm involved in uses Plesk as a hosting control panel, mainly out of intertia, I'm not familiar with any FLOSS replacement though. Some of the upstream FLOSS projects I'm involved with use sourceforge as a hosting platform. There is a certain level of lock-in with SF.net, most of the data is easily exportable though.

Lets ponder my software freeness in comparison to Planet Ubuntu posters. I have no freeness issues with drivers at the moment, however firmware seems likely to have freeness issues for a long time to come. I've avoided the need for the Adobe Flash Player by using swfdec and clive for downloading videos for some sites. swfdec works OK for some sites, some that I care about where it doesn't work and clive cannot download video include Vimeo, abc.net.au and sbs.com.au. For Vimeo you can download raw video if you have a login, but I do not, bugmenot is unreliable and Vimeo doesn't seem to be accepting new registrations. SBS I watch on television and ABC I get no reception so I just don't watch it. Java isn't an issue now that OpenJDK exists. I sometimes need to extract RAR 3.0 archives, which I do by copying the files to a friend's Windows machine or using a RAR extractor website. There is no free implementation of a RAR 3.0 extractor yet. I seem to remember that there is source code for a non-free extractor so presumably a clean-room documentation and reimplementation effort could fix this. I don't encounter LHZ files, but jlha-utils is available for if I do. I feel no need to install Microsoft fonts since the Liberation fonts and DejaVu meet my general font needs and Debian contains fonts covering all the scripts of Unicode (except for about half the huge amount of Han characters). In my music collection, only the Voxware audio codec and DigiTrakker MDL files are not supported by Rhythmbox, but I don't really miss those few tracks. I rarely have audio/video codec issues with video from the Internet. I don't have a use for Opera. Thanks in part to the efforts of the Debian games team, games from Debian main (such as warzone2100) satisfy my gaming needs. I just don't use Skype.

Overall, I'm generally happy with my level of software freedom. My main strategy for preventing regressions in my software freedom is to just avoid doing things that require non-free software. The most problematic FLOSS issues for me are Flash support (adoption of the HTML5 video tag will resolve this for me), RAR 3.0 support and firmware. Please feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Happy Software Freedom Day everyone!

Posted Sat Sep 19 06:01:31 2009 Tags: floss