Planet Fellowship (en)

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Open letter to Apple advertisement

FSFE Fellowship Vienna » English | 09:50, Saturday, 28 March 2015

Dear every mother counts team,

Thank you for your work concerning health care for mothers. You have taken on an important and demanding challenge.

Please consider my following concern regarding Christy Turlington’s Apple advertisement:

I can understand why a marketing contract with Apple must look tempting. The deal might bring in a considerable amount of money. This can potentially fund urgently needed projects. But Christy Turlington’s prominent involvement in the promotion of Apple’s iWatch unfortunately still might counteract important aspects of your work.

Most mothers with insufficient access to health care probably only lack the necessary funds for getting it. Proper education would open a lot of doors in that regard. Modern education heavily depends on technology. Therefore Access to affordable technology and knowledge about it is of paramount importance.

Unfortunately open access is a foreign concept to Apple and it locks down everything it offers. Everything they develop is only made available to paying customers. Nothing is shared freely. They work with aggressive logical patents, closed standards and massive legal restrictions. Therefore, others are actively hindered in offering similar services or products under fairer conditions. [1]

Only freely available, well documented technology without restrictions gives everyone opportunities. Countless people around the globe discover, use, analyse, adapt and spread free software every day, regardless of whether they want to dig a well or organise their local resources more efficiently. If technology has no restrictions built in and comes without legal limitations attached to it, it ceases to be an instrument of power. Privileges are a given and don’t need to be sold or restrained. Apple itself has made heavy use of free software to built its own operating system. But unlike others, who not only took but contributed something, Apple decided to use the free software stack and then lock up what they had derived from it. This surely isn’t in line with’s philosophy.

Free software is an ethical approach to technology, fostering sharing and caring. It has inspired many other movements. It’s main concerns are independence and empowerment. So if you feel like teaming up with institutions in the field of technology, please consider ethically and socially aware players like Mozilla or even organisations like the Free Software Foundation!

My second concern about this marketing arrangement is privacy. Of course Apple promises everything the public wants to hear, but as long as it doesn’t give full public access to what is going on in its products, those are just nice words. Not even governments are allowed to check if Apple’s claims are met in reality. Of course this isn’t an Apple-only problem, but considering the unprecedented scope of data collection by the iWatch, this is a whole new dimension of surveillance acted out by a private, uncontrolled entity.

Free software on the other hand, is trustworthy because one of its merits is its open source. What it does is completely transparent and it can be audited by anyone who is interested. Even if you find features you don’t like, you are free to adapt, remove or just disable them. If someone has an idea how to improve on existing free software, that’s great, because it’s meant to be adapted and shared freely.

Please apply your principles in a wider context!

All the best for your work,
Franz Gratzer
fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)
and an animal rights activist


Friday, 27 March 2015

Help to find better metaphors

bb's blog | 15:31, Friday, 27 March 2015

A big problem of KDE Activities is their name. It builds up a poor mental model and thus makes life hard for users. With this post we ask you to help us finding a better name for the underlying concepts. When I talk to people about our quest to make KDE Activities work, one of [...]

Thursday, 26 March 2015

WebRTC: DruCall in Google Summer of Code 2015? - fsfe | 21:58, Thursday, 26 March 2015

I've offered to help mentor a Google Summer of Code student to work on DruCall. Here is a link to the project details.

The original DruCall was based on SIPml5 and released in 2013 as a proof-of-concept.

It was later adapted to use JSCommunicator as the webphone implementation. JSCommunicator itself was updated by another GSoC student, Juliana Louback, in 2014.

It would be great to take DruCall further in 2015, here are some of the possibilities that are achievable in GSoC:

  • Updating it for Drupal 8
  • Support for logged-in users (currently it just makes anonymous calls, like a phone box)
  • Support for relaying shopping cart or other session cookie details to the call center operative who accepts the call

Help needed: could you be a co-mentor?

My background is in real-time and server-side infrastructure and I'm providing all the WebRTC SIP infrastructure that the student may need. However, for the project to have the most impact, it would also be helpful to have some input from a second mentor who knows about UI design, the Drupal way of doing things and maybe some Drupal 8 experience. Please contact me ASAP if you would be keen to participate either as a mentor or as a student. The deadline for student applications is just hours away but there is still more time for potential co-mentors to join in.

WebRTC at mini-DebConf Lyon in April

The next mini-DebConf takes place in Lyon, France on April 11 and 12. On the Saturday morning, there will be a brief WebRTC demo and there will be other opportunities to demo or test it and ask questions throughout the day. If you are interested in trying to get WebRTC into your web site, with or without Drupal, please see the RTC Quick Start guide.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Libreoffice Design Session: Special Character

bb's blog | 15:31, Friday, 27 March 2015

The Libreoffice UX team presents two proposals for an improved dialog to insert special characters. While the first option was designed with a good balance between effort and benefit in mind, the second solution would be really awesome. The Libreoffice UX team discussed possible improvements for the dialog to insert special characters, in particular the [...]

Thursday, 26 March 2015

“Utmost transparency”, Free Software, and disintermediating the lobby business

Karsten on Free Software | 10:35, Thursday, 26 March 2015

Just how transparent does the European Parliament have to be?

In its own rules of procedure, the Parliament has set itself the high standard of conducting its affairs in “utmost transparency”. But what does this mean in practice?

For five years running, the Green group in the European Parliament has celebrated Document Freedom Day together with us. The focus of  yesterday’s event was a recent study titled “Ensuring utmost transparency – Free Software and Open Standards under the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament”. I recommend that you get the PDF and read it for yourself — it’s well worth your time.

Thanks to MEP Max Andersson, his assistants, and the always wonderful Erik Josefsson, we had a great panel lined up. With Professour Douwe Korff and lawyer Carlo Piana, two of the study’s authors were present to run us through the findings. The study brought many important results.

Why Open Standards and Free Software are essential for transparency

It points out that “utmost transparency” isn’t the same as making information available on request. Requests for access to documents (or Freedom of Information requests, as they’re called elsewhere) belong to the traditional approach, where information is secret by default, and you might get an exception if you ask really nicely.

This might have been acceptable in a pre-digital era, where information largely lived on paper, and gathering, storing and publishing it was expensive and difficult. Today, much of this work can be automated. It’s no longer acceptable to reveal information only when someone happens along to ask for an item in precisely the right way. Information about making policies and laws needs to be public by default.

The study argues that Open Standards are necessary for the Parliament to achieve its goal of “utmost transparency”. The lawmaking process is only really transparent if it can be analysed and reviewed by anyone, on any software platform, without having to ask anyone for permission. This is something that only Open Standards can deliver.

The authors highlight that transparency isn’t a state; it’s an ongoing process. In order to continuosly deliver transparency through Open Standards, the Parliament needs to avoid being tied to any particular IT vendors. Instead, it should use Free Software wherever possible.

How the EP does on transparency – inside and outside views

Four panelists were there to discuss the study, and think about how its results might be put into practice.

Giancarlo Villela is the Director of DG ITEC, and thus responsible for the European Parliament’s IT systems. He pointed out that his team’s primary obligation was to keep those systems running, to make sure that the Parliament could do its work; but that they felt equally obliged to guarantee the security of the Parliament’s IT systems, and to make the Parliament’s work accessible to the public.

He highlighted that he wants the Parliament to be “avantgarde” in IT, taking leadership on transparency and openness among the European institutions. For all the things we at FSFE wish the EP’s IT systems would do better, I need to point out that the Parliament is indeed doing better on this front than the European Commission, let alone the Council, which sometimes seems to communicate its work to the public primarily through leaks. Now if the Parliament could only get its live streams of plenary sessions working for Free Software users, and make them easily accessible…

Martine Reicherts is the Director General of the EU´s Office for Official Publications in Luxembourg, and a former European Commissioner for Justice. She talked about her office’s effort to make EU legislation available and searchable in a way that’s useful for specialists. She said that it took her four years to make European law texts available free of charge. The publications office’s current challenge is to make the data searchable: “If you know a search engine that can efficiently handle 1.3 billion triple-store sets, let me know.”

Jonas Smedegaard is a Debian developer. He has worked quite a lot on the practicalities of making the EP’s systems more transparent. He created the DebianParl distribution, a version of Debian GNU/Linux aimed at people working in the Parliament, and has maintained a constructive dialogue with DG ITEC on actually getting the thing working. (“Constructive dialogue” is Brussels lingo for “an ongoing and sometimes lively argument”.) With his experience at the coalface of transparency, he had quite a few suggestions to make as to what the Parliament’s IT systems could be doing better — especially using standard protocols to handle email, rather than Microsoft’s proprietary tools.

Transparency and legitimacy

I was the final speaker on the panel. With most of the practicalities addressed, I took the opportunity to make a few broader points:

  • Transparency is essential for the legitimacy of the European institutions. If the Parliament, the Commission and the Council want fewer people to complain about their lack of legitimacy, then utmost transparency is an excellent way to go.
  • Currently, some of the best transparency tools around the EP are provided by volunteers, for example ParlTrack. This is no way for the EU’s central democratic institution to go about its business. The Parliament should do two things. It should make raw data and metadata about laws, amendments, and its members publicly available in real time. And it should provide some tools to help people make sense of the data. Many people and organisations will still choose some other way to have the data presented to them according to their needs; but the Parliament needs to provide at least a first entry point for the public.
  • Ideally, this sort of transparency will disintermediate today’s lobbying industry. A lot of people in Brussels and elsewhere spend a lot of time simply keeping track of what happens in the Parliament, in the Commission and the Council. Legions of analysts parse an endless stream of decisions, reports, white papers, speeches, and so forth. Lobby firms – and political NGOs like FSFE – base their influence not so much on superior knowledge of their subject matter, but rather on knowing what’s going on, where to look for information, and who to call in order to find out more. Greater transparency, especially through publication of real-time data on policy making, would make it possible for anyone to create tools to analyse this data. This, in turn, would hopefully make it easier for ordinary citizens to understand a given policy process, and to get involved.

Looking at it this way, Villela’s DG ITEC isn’t just running the EP’s IT systems for the Parliament’s own use. These way these systems are built and run determines how much access Europe’s citizens get to the lawmaking process, and how well they can understand it. These systems play an important role in determining the political legitimacy of the European Parliament, and by extension of the other EU institutions.

That’s a large responsibility for an IT department to carry. But there you have it.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The easiest way to run your own OpenID provider? - fsfe | 16:57, Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A few years ago, I was looking for a quick and easy way to run OpenID on a small web server.

A range of solutions were available but some appeared to be slightly more demanding than what I would like. For example, one solution required a servlet container such as Tomcat and another one required some manual configuration of Python with Apache.

I came across the SimpleID project. As the name implies, it is simple. It is written in PHP and works with the Apache/PHP environment on just about any Linux web server. It allows you to write your own plugin for a user/password database or just use flat files to get up and running quickly with no database at all.

This seemed like the level of simplicity I was hoping for so I created the Debian package of SimpleID. SimpleID is also available in Ubuntu.

Help needed

Thanks to a contribution from Jean-Michel Nirgal Vourgère, I've just whipped up a 0.8.1-14 package that should fix Apache 2.4 support in jessie. I also cleaned up a documentation bug and the control file URLs.

Nonetheless, it may be helpful to get feedback from other members of the community about the future of this package:

  • Is it considered secure enough?
  • Have other people found it relatively simple to install or was I just lucky when I tried it?
  • Are there other packages that now offer such a simple way to get OpenID for a vanilla Apache/PHP environment?
  • Would anybody else be interested in helping to maintain this package?
  • Would anybody like to see this packaged in other distributions such as Fedora?
  • Is anybody using it for any online community?

Works with HOTP one-time-passwords and LDAP servers

One reason I chose SimpleID is because of dynalogin, the two-factor authentication framework. I wanted a quick and easy way to use OTP with OpenID so I created the SimpleID plugin for dynalogin, also available as a package.

I also created the LDAP backend for SimpleID, that is available as a package too.

Works with Drupal

I tested SimpleID for login to a Drupal account when the OpenID support is enabled in Drupal, it worked seamlessly. I've also tested it with a few public web sites that support OpenID.

Last chance to vote on the date for the Randa Meetings 2015

Mario Fux | 14:01, Tuesday, 24 March 2015

We plan to close the Doodle for the Randa Meetings date selection at the end of this week. So if you plan to participate please vote on the date that best fits you! And keep in mind two things:

  • You might bring your partner or family with you to Randa. We started this last year and people really liked it (and Randa is a nice holiday place in the Alps too – near to the world-known Zermatt).
  • If you see a lot of well-known names on the Doodle don’t think you shouldn’t be part of this. We always want to see new people with fresh energy and inspiring thoughts and ideas in Randa.

So please add yourself as quickly as possible or write me an email (fux AT kde) or ping me on IRC (unormal).


flattr this!

The outcome is unpredictable but your contribution is priceless

Don't Panic » English Planet | 10:32, Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Tomorrow is Document Freedom Day and this is the time when I am happy to see people around the world engaging on a local level to highlight the importance of Open Standards. All of them in their very own way … Continue reading

Monday, 23 March 2015

Fairphone back to the drawing board

Nico Rikken » fsfe | 19:29, Monday, 23 March 2015

Previously I’ve shared my thoughts and concerns on freedom in mobile operating systems. The Fairphone project unfortunately has a bad reputation in this area. Not because they don’t care, but because they failed to deliver on this promise in their first version. Other people involved in open hardware design for mobile devices saw it coming as they’ve been struggling with exactly the same issue for many years already. Especially for them it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a perfectly fine hardware platform would be kept from future firmware updates.

But as in any process of innovation, a new version allows for improvements. And so will a new upcoming version of the Fairphone. For months the Fairphone has featured several lengthy threads discussing alternative, generally more free operating systems. As I tried to state with a lengthy forum post there are multiple interest in strong conflict with each other. So even whether there will be multiple OS flavours or one for all customers is not yet decided. The great news however is that the Fairphone team have taken on this challenge, big time! I’ve had some email conversations with Kees Jongenburger and Joe Mier regarding further plans and options. But more importantly, they went looking for alternatives at the Mobile World Congress. Over the course of the next months the plans will be finalized, so I’d like to encourage anybody with relevant information to contribute to the discussions. Let’s make the next Fairphone far more fair.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The BBC Micro and the BBC Micro Bit

Paul Boddie's Free Software-related blog » English | 00:44, Sunday, 22 March 2015

At least on certain parts of the Internet as well as in other channels, there has been a degree of excitement about the announcement by the BBC of a computing device called the “Micro Bit“, with the BBC’s plan to give one of these devices to each child starting secondary school, presumably in September 2015, attracting particular attention amongst technology observers and television licence fee-payers alike. Details of the device are a little vague at the moment, but the announcement along with discussions of the role of the corporation and previous initiatives of this nature provides me with an opportunity to look back at the original BBC Microcomputer, evaluate some of the criticisms (and myths) around the associated Computer Literacy Project, and to consider the things that were done right and wrong, with the latter hopefully not about to be repeated in this latest endeavour.

As the public record reveals, at the start of the 1980s, the BBC wanted to engage its audience beyond television programmes describing the growing microcomputer revolution, and it was decided that to do this and to increase computer literacy generally, it would need to be able to demonstrate various concepts and technologies on a platform that would be able to support the range of activities to which computers were being put to use. Naturally, a demanding specification was constructed – clearly, the scope of microcomputing was increasing rapidly, and there was a lot to demonstrate – and various manufacturers were invited to deliver products that could be used as this reference platform. History indicates that a certain amount of acrimony followed – a complete description of which could fill an entire article of its own – but ultimately only Acorn Computers managed to deliver a machine that could do what the corporation was asking for.

An Ambitious Specification

It is worth considering what the BBC Micro was offering in 1981, especially when considering ill-informed criticism of the machine’s specifications by people who either prefer other systems or who felt that participating in the development of such a machine was none of the corporation’s business. The technologies to be showcased by the BBC’s programme-makers and supported by the materials and software developed for the machine included full-colour graphics, multi-channel sound, 80-column text, Viewdata/Teletext, cassette and diskette storage, local area networking, interfacing to printers, joysticks and other input/output devices, as well as to things like robots and user-developed devices. Although it is easy to pick out one or two of these requirements, move forwards a year or two, increase the budget two- or three-fold, or any combination of these things, and to nominate various other computers, there really were few existing systems that could deliver all of the above, at least at an affordable price at the time.

Some microcomputers of the early 1980s
Computer RAM Text Graphics Year Price
Apple II Plus Up to 64K 40 x 25 (upper case only) 280 x 192 (6 colours), 40 x 48 (16 colours) 1979 £1500 or more
Commodore PET 4032/8032 32K 40/80 x 25 Graphics characters (2 colours) 1980 £800 (4032), £1030 (8032) (including monochrome monitor)
Commodore VIC-20 5K 22 x 23 176 x 184 (8 colours) 1980 (1981 outside Japan) £199
IBM PC (Model 5150) 16K up to 256K 40/80 x 25 640 x 200 (2 colours), 320 x 200 (4 colours) 1981 £1736 (including monochrome monitor, presumably with 16K or 64K)
BBC Micro (Model B) 32K 80/40/20 x 32/24, Teletext 640 x 256 (2 colours), 320 x 256 (2/4 colours), 160 x 256 (4/8 colours) 1981 £399 (originally £335)
Research Machines LINK 480Z 64K (expandable to 256K) 40 x 24 (optional 80 x 24) 160 x 72, 80 x 72 (2 colours); expandable to 640 x 192 (2 colours), 320 x 192 (4 colours), 190 x 96 (8 colours or 16 shades) 1981 £818
ZX Spectrum 16K or 48K 32 x 24 256 x 192 (16 colours applied using attributes) 1982 £125 (16K), £175 (48K)
Commodore 64 64K 40 x 25 320 x 200 (16 colours applied using attributes) 1982 £399

Perhaps the closest competitor, already being used in a fairly limited fashion in educational establishments in the UK, was the Commodore PET. However, it is clear that despite the adaptability of that system, its display capabilities were becoming increasingly uncompetitive, and Commodore had chosen to focus on the chipsets that would power the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 instead. (The designer of the PET went on to make the very capable, and understandably more expensive, Victor 9000/Sirius 1.) That Apple products were notoriously expensive and, indeed, the target of Commodore’s aggressive advertising did not seem to prevent them from capturing the US education market from the PET, but they always remained severely uncompetitive in the UK as commentators of the time indeed noted.

Later, the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 were released. Technology was progressing rapidly, and in hindsight one might have advocated waiting around until more capable and cheaper products came to market. However, it can be argued that in fulfilling virtually all aspects of the ambitious specification and pricing, it would not be until the release of the Amstrad CPC series in 1984 that a suitable alternative product might have become available. Even then, these Amstrad computers actually benefited from the experience accumulated in the UK computing industry from the introduction of the BBC Micro: they were, if anything, an iteration within the same generation of microcomputers and would even have used the same 6502 CPU as the BBC Micro had it not been for time-to-market pressures and the readily-available expertise with the Zilog Z80 CPU amongst those in the development team. And yet, specific aspects of the specification would still be unfulfilled: the BBC Micro had hardware support for Teletext displays, although it would have been possible to emulate these with a bitmapped display and suitable software.

Arise Sir Clive

Much has been made of the disappointment of Sir Clive Sinclair that his computers were not adopted by the BBC as products to be endorsed and targeted at schools. Sinclair made his name developing products that were competitive on price, often seeking cost-reduction measures to reach attractive pricing levels, but such measures also served to make his products less desirable. If one reads reviews of microcomputers from the early 1980s, many reviewers explicitly mention the quality of the keyboard provided by the computers being reviewed: a “typewriter” keyboard with keys that “travel” appear to be much preferred over the “calculator” keyboards provided by computers like the ZX Spectrum, Oric 1 or Newbury NewBrain, and they appear to be vastly preferred over the “membrane” keyboards employed by the ZX80, ZX81 and Atari 400.

For target audiences in education, business, and in the home, it would have been inconceivable to promote a product with anything less than a “proper” keyboard. Ultimately, the world had to wait until the ZX Spectrum +2 released in 1986 for a Spectrum with such a keyboard, and that occurred only after the product line had been acquired by Amstrad. (One might also consider the ZX Spectrum+ in 1984, but its keyboard was more of a hybrid of the calculator keyboard that had been used before and the “full-travel” keyboards provided by its competitors.)

Some people claim that they owe nothing to the BBC Micro and everything to the ZX Spectrum (or, indeed, the computer they happened to own) for their careers in computing. Certainly, the BBC Micro was an expensive purchase for many people, although contrary to popular assertion it was not any more expensive than the Commodore 64 upon that computer’s introduction in the UK, and for those of us who wanted BBC compatibility at home on a more reasonable budget, the Acorn Electron was really the only other choice. But it would be as childish as the playground tribalism that had everyone insist that their computer was “the best” to insist that the BBC Micro had no influence on computer literacy in general, or on the expectations of what computer systems should provide. Many people who owned a ZX Spectrum freely admit that the BBC Micro coloured their experiences, some even subsequently seeking to buy one or one of its successors and to go on to build a successful software development career.

The Costly IBM PC

Some commentators seem to consider the BBC Micro as having been an unnecessary diversion from the widespread adoption of the IBM PC throughout British society. As was the case everywhere else, the de-facto “industry standard” of the PC architecture and DOS captured much of the business market and gradually invaded the education sector from the top down, although significantly better products existed both before and after its introduction. It is tempting with hindsight to believe that by placing an early bet on the success of the then-new PC architecture, business and education could have somehow benefited from standardising on the PC and DOS applications. And there has always been the persistent misguided belief amongst some people that schools should be training their pupils/students for a narrow version of “the world of work”, as opposed to educating them to be able to deal with all aspects of their lives once their school days are over.

What many people forget or fail to realise is that the early 1980s witnessed rapid technological improvement in microcomputing, that there were many different systems and platforms, some already successful and established (such as CP/M), and others arriving to disrupt ideas of what computing should be like (the Xerox Alto and Star having paved the way for the Apple Lisa and Macintosh, the Atari ST, and so on). It was not clear that the IBM PC would be successful at all: IBM had largely avoided embracing personal computing, and although the system was favourably reviewed and seen as having the potential for success, thanks to IBM’s extensive sales organisation, other giants of the mainframe and minicomputing era such as DEC and HP were pursuing their own personal computing strategies. Moreover, existing personal computers were becoming entrenched in certain markets, and early adopters were building a familiarity with those existing machines that was reflected in publications and materials available at the time.

Despite the technical advantages of the IBM PC over much of the competition at the beginning of the 1980s, it was also substantially more expensive than the mass-market products arriving in significant numbers, aimed at homes, schools and small businesses. With many people remaining intrigued but unconvinced by the need for a personal computer, it would have been impossible for a school to justify spending almost £2000 (probably around £8000 today) on something without proven educational value. Software would also need to be purchased, and the procurement of expensive and potentially non-localised products would have created even more controversy.

Ultimately, the Computer Literacy Project stimulated the production of a wide range of locally-produced products at relatively inexpensive prices, and while there may have been a few years of children learning BBC BASIC instead of one of the variants of BASIC for the IBM PC (before BASIC became a deprecated aspect of DOS-based computing), it is hard to argue that those children missed out on any valuable experience using DOS commands or specific DOS-based products, especially since DOS became a largely forgotten environment itself as technological progress introduced new paradigms and products, making “hard-wired”, product-specific experience obsolete.

The Good and the Bad

Not everything about the BBC Micro and its introduction can be considered unconditionally good. Choices needed to be made to deliver a product that could fulfil the desired specification within certain technological constraints. Some people like to criticise BBC BASIC as being “non-standard”, for example, which neglects the diversity of BASIC dialects that existed at the dawn of the 1980s. Typically, for such people “standard” equates to “Microsoft”, but back then Microsoft BASIC was a number of different things. Commodore famously paid a one-off licence fee to use Microsoft BASIC in its products, but the version for the Commodore 64 was regarded as lacking user-friendly support for graphics primitives and other interesting hardware features. Meanwhile, the MSX range of microcomputers featured Microsoft Extended BASIC which did provide convenient access to hardware features, although the MSX range of computers were not the success at the low end of the market that Microsoft had probably desired to complement its increasing influence at the higher end through the IBM PC. And it is informative in this regard to see just how many variants of Microsoft BASIC were produced, thanks to Microsoft’s widespread licensing of its software.

Nevertheless, the availability of one company’s products do not make a standard, particularly if interoperability between those products is limited. Neither BBC BASIC nor Microsoft BASIC can be regarded as anything other than de-facto standards in their own territories, and it is nonsensical to regard one as non-standard when the other has largely the same characteristics as a proprietary product in widespread use, even if it was licensed to others, as indeed both Microsoft BASIC and BBC BASIC were. Genuine attempts to standardise BASIC did indeed exist, notably BASICODE, which was used in the distribution of programs via public radio broadcasts. One suspects that people making casual remarks about standard and non-standard things remain unaware of such initiatives. Meanwhile, Acorn did deliver implementations of other standards-driven programming languages such as COMAL, Pascal, Logo, Lisp and Forth, largely adhering to any standards subject to the limitations of the hardware.

However, what undermined the BBC Micro and Acorn’s related initiatives over time was the control that they as a single vendor had over the platform and its technologies. At the time, a “winner takes all” mentality prevailed: Commodore under Jack Tramiel had declared a “price war” on other vendors and had caused difficulties for new and established manufacturers alike, with Atari eventually being sold to Tramiel (who had resigned from Commodore) by Warner Communications, but many companies disappeared or were absorbed by others before half of the decade had passed. Indeed, Acorn, who had released the Electron to compete with Sinclair Research at the lower end of the market, and who had been developing product lines to compete in the business sector, experienced financial difficulties and was ultimately taken over by Olivetti; Sinclair, meanwhile, experienced similar difficulties and was acquired by Amstrad. In such a climate, ideas of collaboration seemed far from everybody’s minds.

Since then, the protagonists of the era have been able to reflect on such matters, Acorn co-founder Hermann Hauser admitting that it may have been better to license Acorn’s Econet local area networking technology to interested competitors like Commodore. Although the sentiments might have something to do with revenues and influence – it was at Acorn that the ARM processor was developed, sowing the seeds of a successful licensing business today – the rest of us may well ask what might have happened had the market’s participants of the era cooperated on things like standards and interoperability, helping their customers to protect their investments in technology, and building a bigger “common” market for third-party products. What if they had competed on bringing technological improvements to market without demanding that people abandon their existing purchases (and cause confusion amongst their users) just because those people happened to already be using products from a different vendor? It is interesting to see the range of available BBC BASIC implementations and to consider a world where such building blocks could have been adopted by different manufacturers, providing a common, heterogeneous platform built on cooperation and standards, not the imposition of a single hardware or software platform.

But That Was Then

Back then, as Richard Stallman points out, proprietary software was the norm. It would have been even more interesting had the operating systems and the available software for microcomputers been Free Software, but that may have been asking too much at the time. And although computer designs were often shared and published, a tendency to prevent copying of commercial computer designs prevailed, with Acorn and Sinclair both employing proprietary integrated circuits mostly to reduce complexity and increase performance, but partly to obfuscate their hardware designs, too. Thus, it may have been too much to expect something like the BBC Micro to have been open hardware to any degree “back in the day”, although circuit diagrams were published in publicly-available technical documentation.

But we have different expectations now. We expect software to be freely available for inspection, modification and redistribution, knowing that this empowers the end-users and reassures them that the software does what they want it to do, and that they remain in control of their computing environment. Increasingly, we also expect hardware to exhibit the same characteristics, perhaps only accepting that some components are particularly difficult to manufacture and that there are physical and economic restrictions on how readily we may practise the modification and redistribution of a particular device. Crucially, we demand control over the software and hardware we use, and we reject attempts to prevent us from exercising that control.

The big lesson to be learned from the early 1980s, to be considered now in the mid-2010s, is not how to avoid upsetting a popular (but ultimately doomed) participant in the computing industry, as some commentators might have everybody believe. It is to avoid developing proprietary solutions that favour specific organisations and that, despite the general benefits of increased access to technology, ultimately disempower the end-user. And in this era of readily available Free Software and open hardware platforms, the lesson to be learned is to strengthen such existing platforms and to work with them, letting those products and solutions participate and interoperate with the newly-introduced initiative in question.

The BBC Micro was a product of its time and its development was very necessary to fill an educational need. Contrary to the laziest of reports, the Micro Bit plays a different role as an accessory rather than as a complete home computer, at least if we may interpret the apparent intentions of its creators. But as a product of this era, our expectations for the Micro Bit are greater: we expect transparency and interoperability, the ability to make our own (just as one can with the Arduino, as long as one does not seek to call it an Arduino without asking permission from the trademark owner), and the ability to control exactly how it works. Whether there is a need to develop a completely new hardware solution remains an unanswered question, but we may assert that should it be necessary, such a solution should be made available as open hardware to the maximum possible extent. And of course, the software controlling it should be Free Software.

As we edge gradually closer to September and the big deployment, it will be interesting to assess how the device and the associated initiative measures up to our expectations. Let us hope that the right lessons from the days of the BBC Micro have indeed been learned!

Friday, 20 March 2015

EvQueue, free software job scheduler and queueing engine, liberated!

Nicolas Jean's FSFE blog » English | 10:41, Friday, 20 March 2015

EvQueue is a free software task scheduler and queueing engine. It handles the planning of simple tasks but also that of workflows, chaining basic pieces of code to more complex endeavours.

We’ve been working on it in my NGO* for around three years, and been thinking about liberating it for half of that time. Now it’s finally available for everybody to enjoy, although it remains more of a web/server/admin/dev thing. We’ve been using it in a production environment since the beginning; to date, more than four millions workflows have been executed.

It has proven very useful for our websites and web applications to allow for background tasks. When a user wants for example to generate personalised snail mail for thousands of people (accordingly big pdf file), or upload a bunch of photos that need to go through some treatments, the operation can get lengthy. Far too lengthy (10s of seconds, minutes) for a page reload! Launch an evQueue workflow that deals with the export or upload, and it’ll run in the background. The user can go on with his or her navigation, and the website can silently check on evQueue to know when the workflow is finished, then inform the user in whichever way.

Documentation on how to install and use evQueue, as well as workflow examples, are available on the evQueue website.

* Que Choisir is a French consumer-protection organisation, we at the IT department work on its websites and many internal web applications.

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Unexpected turn at panel discussion on software patents and Free Software

I love it here » English | 10:00, Friday, 20 March 2015

On Monday 17 March 2015, I participated in a panel discussion organised by the European Patent Office at the Cebit in Hannover. The title of the discussion was “Patents, Standards, and Open Source — a changing landscape”. I prepared to discuss software patents, but something unexpected happened in the panel discussion.

I was invited by Grant Philpott (Principal Director of ICT area in the European Patent Office) to participate in the panel discussion. Beside him as a moderated there were: the following participants: Brian Hinman (Senior Vice President and Chief IP Officer, Royal Philips), Koen Lievens (Director DG1, European Patent Office), and myself.

To prepare I first read the EPO’s position on software patents again, and then prepared for the discussion together with our current interns Marius Jammes, Miks Upenieks, and Nicola Feltrin. So they had to read some articles — including one of my favourites “The Most Important Software Innovations” by David Wheeler — and we discussed the main arguments in favour and against software patents again. That was a good practice for them, as well as for me. After this we were well prepared to discuss details about software patents.

Before the event, Brian Hinman and myself were asked to prepare a short input statement about the “main IP needs of the ICT sector in the future, how you see these being ideally met, and what will need to change in order to get to that ‘ideal’ situation.” (My notes for this statement are below.) This was the start of the panel discussion.

I was astonished what happened when the audience was included in the discussion: almost all their questions were about Free Software, and almost none about patents. Instead of expected comments like “but how do we give incentives to inventors” or “but we have to secure investments”, people were interested in Free Software specifics. From the 45 minutes on the panel we at least spoke 25 minutes exclusively about Free Software business models, compliance issues, copyright management, and why Free Software is important for our society and the economy. Afterwards I spent over an hour to answer several questions from the audience which we could not cover during the disucssion.

So this discussion took a completely unexpected turn for me. But in this case I was very happy about that.

My introduction statement

Today Free Software runs on the majority of computers around the world: from supercomputers and other servers, to robots or space shuttles, to computers we carry around every day in like phones or tablets, to very small computers we often do not recognise as such.

How did we achieve it, that nowadays the most important operating system is Free Software, every company uses Free Software, and that it is almost impossible to develop other software without using Free Software yourself?

We achieved that because Free Software empowers people rather than restricting them. Based on copyright we use licenses which grant everybody the rights to use, study, share and improve software for any purpose.

  • The right to use it for any purpose, garantees that everybody can participate in using and developing software. So there is no discrimination on who can use the technology or for what you can use it.
  • Every Free Software license grants you the right to study how it works: In a world which is as complex as ours we cannot afford to keep things secret if we want to solve problems. Source code plus documentation is the best way to share the knowledge how IT devices work. Publishing source code is also the best way to enable interoperability and therefore competition.
  • To adopt software to your own needs it is crucial that you are allowed to improve it. Technology should do what you want to do with it, not what others thought it should do. So you are allowed to modify all parts of the software, use only parts of it, experiment with it, and combine programs to create new products.
  • Furthermore you have the right to share knowledge and workload with others. We have many problems in the world, which can be solved with software. But we have few people who can actually solve them in a good way. Let us enable them to concentrate on fixing new problems, instead of fixing one which was already solved. So Free Software always allows you to share the software — modified or not — with others.

We guarantee everybody those rights through copyright.


  • Legal issues: too many legal issues around technology. Let people be creative to fix other people’s problems, instead of focusing on problems resulting e.g. out of copyright and patents.
  • Licenses: most FS licenses are much easier to understand than proprietary software licenses. Solution: but still we can make them easier to understand and work with, and have fewer licenses.
  • Patents: problematic to have additional monopolies on principles instead of implementations. Burden to do research what other people already did in a field, the need to negotiate with them, dealing with lawsuits. So stronger clarification that patents on software are not allowed. In case it is not clear if it is software or hardware, patents should not be granted.
  • Secrecy: not publishing the source code and thereby preventing others in society to understand how products work or to make interoperable products. This restriction also continues after the copyright period. Solution: at least publicly financed software (including research) needs to be published under Free Software licenses. This way the results can be integrated in all kind of products. Maybe requirement to depose source code.
  • Restricting hardware platforms: someone else controls what you can install on your computers. Solution: clear right that you are allowed to change software on your computers, and as a company also sell those afterwards.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

GNU/Linux, an iPod and Clementine: becoming friends

pb's blog » en | 23:04, Thursday, 19 March 2015

Yet another friend of mine came to me with the problem that they were stuck with the music collection they currently had on their iPod, because they’ve had to re-install the OS on their computer, and were now afraid to connect it with iTunes, since it might “synchronize” their not-on-the-harddrive-anymore collection and thereby wiping all the music from the iPod.


Since that wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this, I offered that I “might take a look at it” – and try to hook it up with my all-time-favorite music player and operating system: Clementine on GNU/Linux (Xubuntu 12.04 LTS).

I was expecting the iPod to be accessible somehow on GNU/Linux, and expected to have to read some HowTos, etc – but I was amazed: It just worked! ™
I connected the iPod over USB, and it immediately showed up as mass-storage device (it’s labeled “PAN”):

I double-clicked it, and was served with the files on the device. The music collection is stored in a non-human readable way: The folders are labeled “FXX” (XX being a zero-padded number), and the music files had 4-letter names with some hex-IDs.

Hm… Let’s hope the files are tagged properly, and that Clementine can handle them.
So, I started Clementine and selected the option “Devices”. There it was!

Not only could I access (and therefore backup) all files on the iPod, but Clementine can read and even upload songs to it without problems – or any configuration necessary. Just select the tracks you want to upload to the iPod, right-click and select “Copy to device…”.
That actually makes way more sense for handling your music collection on your portable music player.

So not only was I able to easily make a full backup of the data on the iPod, but I could easily manage handling the music collection, with the full convenience of Clementine for browsing, tagging and uploading the files.

That’s yet another situation where Free Software enables users to avoid the unnecessary lock-in by the original vendor.
I’m not suggesting anyone to get an iPod, but some people already have one – and it’s better to enable them to use it with Free Software, than have them throw it away.

It might be one of the few MP3 players that survive more than a few months, but it’s just too “restrictive/defective-by-design” for my taste. My all time favorite portable audio player is the “Sansa Clip+” on Rockbox :)
Once you’ve gone Rockbox, you just don’t want back (Especially as an audio engineer)!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Libreoffice Design Session: CMIS Improvement

bb's blog | 15:31, Friday, 27 March 2015

The Libreoffice UX team presents a proposal for an improved integration of content management interoperability services (CMIS). It was the outcome of the second ‘design session’ that will be conducted regularly. Topic of last week’s Libreoffice design session was the integration of content management interoperability services (CMIS). Here is the outcome of this meeting. [Read [...]

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mobile is the Future | 01:42, Tuesday, 17 March 2015

(photo Cory Doctorow, CC-BY-SA)

A few days ago I got an email from Google Wembaster Tools which said no more no less but: ‘Your webpage sucks on mobile devices!’ Well, all right, I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

I never really paid that much attention to how my site looks on phones or tables. I’ve made sure it loads and looks, but apart from that never spent much time on the issue. I always thought optimising for a small screen would be a lengthy process. How mistaken I was!

In my defence, when I last looked at the problem, state of mobile browsers were different, but now there are really just two things to do. First of all, add a viewport meta tag, e.g.:

<meta name=viewport
      content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">

and then use min-width or max-width CSS media queries. Admittedly the second part may take some time, but if you’re layout uses simple markup rather than being TABLE-based, reading the excellent article on A List Apart might turn out to be the most time consuming step.

So if you haven’t already, do take a look at whether your website looks reasonably well on small screens. Apparently mobile is the future, or some such.

The ‘bad’ news is that I’ve dropped endless scroll feature. This is because in narrow layout the sidebar moves to the bottom and having endless scrolling enabled would make it unreachable since it would run away all the time.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Open Letter to Mr. Cook (Apple Computers)

FSFE Fellowship Vienna » English | 15:24, Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mr. Cook,

I just watched your newest keynote. The best thing you presented was the use of USB-C on new MacBooks. Finally you have decided to use an open standard which can make life easier for all users.

Unfortunately this was the end of all the good news since everything else seems to go in the opposite direction. Worst of all is launching a massive surveillance device like the iWatch without being completely transparent with what is happening inside the device and on your servers. I as a user, want to be in control of my data. But this is a concept you obviously oppose.

As long as you stick to closed source software, DRM, restrictive licences and patent laws to maximise your profits, you heavily contribute to inequality and powerlessness around the globe.

This makes you an absolute no-go as a source of computing devices.

Please don’t only consider your gain in power and profit, but also the effect of your work on our society. Do you really consider disempowerment an ethical contribution that you want to be a part of?

Friday, 27 March 2015

Libreoffice Design Session: Entries at Indexes and Tables

bb's blog | 15:31, Friday, 27 March 2015

The Libreoffice UX team presents a proposal for an improved dialog to tweak the entries of table of contents. It was the outcome of the first ‘design session’ that will be conducted regularly. The Libreoffice UX team started last week with another type of meeting, the design session. The goal is to discuss one issue [...]

Discuss the Future of Activities and Virtual Desktops

bb's blog | 15:31, Friday, 27 March 2015

We ask for your feedback on a future scenario on what Activities and Virtual Desktops could evolve to. It has been quite some time since we asked you to share your experiences with Virtual Desktops and Activities. Meanwhile we have been thinking through the enormous amount of feedback you provided. It was very inspiring. Thanks [...]

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fancy dinners, cgroups and namespaces, and meet-ups

Creative Destruction & Me » FLOSS | 10:00, Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Weeks 09 and 10 of 2015 have seen … a presentation at the internet-of-things-flavored Embedded World about “Defensive Strategies in Open Source”, Berlin FSFE fellowship and Open Source meet-ups, farewell dinners, theatre, an interview for a master thesis about organisations influenced by Open Source, a lot of reading and researching about software and patents and EC decisions on competition, the beginning of an office hunt, a very cool presentation on namespaces and cgroups in Linux, and a (very) fancy dinner. And my “2” key isn’t working well :-)

Embedded World is a pretty interesting conference that takes place in Nuremberg in February. Internet of Things seems to be the current motto. Open Source technologies, especially Linux in various incarnations of the stack have become a mainstay in embedded computers. Nicholas McGuire of OSADL organised a one day workshop on “Legal Aspects of Open Source”, where I presented about “Defensive strategies in Open Source – patent non-aggression and the Open Invention Network”.

Miriam Ballhausen of JBB Rechtsanwälte presented right before me about intricacies of Open Source licensing. Our two presentations nicely complemented each other, with me focusing more in what challenges FLOSS communities experience when managing the fine line between collaborating on building base technologies while still competing in the areas that differentiate for their users. One of the claims in my presentation is that the legal implications of using FLOSS gather so much attention because the underlying process changes are rather dramatic and challenge the established legal frameworks that have been designed with the traditional competitive (as opposed to collaborative) way of inventing. There was time for dinner, too. The regional food in Nuremberg is hearty and delicious. Excellent local beer is made there, and Schäufele is my favorite local dish:

When I was back from Nuremberg on Thursday, I had to deal with a rather unpleasant contractual issue with a client. One lesson learned from it is to either bring in the lawyers before a contract is signed and cover all bases, or later handle project issues like grown-ups and settle them between the engineers. Bringing in legal counsel when a project is mostly complete probably just means spending way too much time explaining why things weren’t done by the book, without getting to results. However it looks like the parties are getting their act together and will finally finish the work soon.

On Thursday evening I attended the Berlin FSFE Fellowship meeting. It was right after Jonas Öberg started as the new executive director for FSFE, and it was a chance to meet and congratulate him and to wish him good luck. This marks a development of FSFE to re-organise it’s leadership, by separating the ED’s and the president’s jobs. Endocode just became a FSFE sponsor, Karl wrote about it here.

Before the weekend it was time for Endocode’s partners (aka shareholders) to conduct their monthly management meeting. We, too, are trying to split operational and long-term oriented work with weekly meetings that handle all short-term issues and monthly meetings. It is important to set aside time to focus on more visionary aspects. Otherwise random issues that crop up will always take priority, preventing processes from developing and things from improving. After that, we went to Mirchi in Kreuzberg to bid farewell to ex-colleague and co-KDE-contributor Kevin Funk who is moving away. Just for completeness we finished the week at the Savoy bar with fancy cocktails.

On Saturday we went to see an amateur theatre production by Berlin’s StageInk theatre company. The play was a self-written piece with a ghost-ship story line. The group apparently practised for 18 months to in the end deliver 4 performances — it feels like a waste because it was actually really quite good. More people should see it :-)

Then finally on Sunday the city saw the first Open Source Meetup for 2015, organised by my esteemed colleague Chris. A good mix of contributors and other interested people, discussions about the relations between European languages and kernel multithreading implementations, and good food at Naan.

So started week 10. On Monday Sandra interviewed me for her master’s thesis. She is researching success factors of Open Source companies. Endocode’s philosophy is to a large extend inspired by Open Source culture. The interview was not just a one way flow of information, it was also a chance to reflect on what the motivations and thoughts were at the time, and what came out of them. I drew two conclusions: First, the goals we initially set out for, mostly to create a company that puts individuals at the center and tries to build a place in which they can thrive, have been reached for the most part (which doesn’t mean it is all done, of course). Second, this means that the next challenge is to keep this spirit while the company grows to a size that requires more than ad-hoc organisation. This realisation ties in nicely with the series of strategy workshops we started. Exciting times ahead.

Afternoon reads included Software and Patents in Europe by Philip Leith. I find that book well-research and -reflected. Certainly a recommended read, especially because it does not argue from the Open Source community’s perspective. Sometimes it is more educational to read competing opinions, it helps get out of the self-imposed filter bubble. It was accompanied by European Commission Decisions on Competition, which gives a fascinating overview (if you are into that kind of thing) of the landmark cases of EC rulings on competition.

On Tuesday we started the process of looking for a new office for Endocode. As usual, we moved into our current place with the intention to stay there for 3 to 4 years, and then outgrew it within 18 months. Not that I am complaining. We are now looking for a 300-400qm place in central Berlin, to start the next phase. In the evening at the next Endocode meet-up, Alban presented about the Linux kernel APIs for containers, like cgroups and namespaces. Those are the underlying technologies for many of the things we are currently working on, including CoreOS, Docker and Rocket. Fascinating, if you are an operating system nerd (which deep down, I am), and nothing short of revolutionary.

The rest of the week was not that spectacular, short of a 5 hour meeting attended by phone bridge (the audio quality of these is so bad, my kids have better recording equipment at home :-), and the beginning of a brainstorm for the presentation on March 17. However… the weekend… We spend it in the countryside of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, at Ich weiss ein Haus am See. The stay was my birthday present to Alex, who is a foodie extraordinaire. The restaurant of the place was one of the first in eastern Germany to receive a Michelin star. Conveniently, Saturday was my birthday, so we had double the reasons to celebrate. The four-course dinner was outstanding from start to finish, and the ambience is just beautiful. We both did not bring computers or phones to dinner, so no food pictures. It is all left to your imagination :-)

Filed under: Coding, CreativeDestruction, English, FLOSS, KDE, OSS, Qt

The time has come to stand up for the GPL | 02:56, Wednesday, 11 March 2015

For people who know me it should come with no surprise that I supporter free software in most forms they can take. I also believe that if someone gives you something at zero price, basic courtesy dictates that you follow wishes of that person. This is why when Software Freedom Conservancy started a GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers I didn’t hesitate even for a minute to offer little Linux copyright I held to help the effort.

Most importantly though, it is why I fully support Conservancy in taking legal action against VMware who for years has been out of compliance with Linux’s license.

If you care about free software, the GPL or want more projects like OpenWrt, consider donating to help Christoph Hellwig and the Conservancy with their legal battle against this multi-billion-dollar corporation who for some reason decided to free-ride on other people’s work without respecting their wishes.

If you don’t feel like, or for whatever reason cannot donate, twitting something along the lines of ‘Play by the rules, @VMware. I defend the #GPL with Christoph & @Conservancy. #DTRTvmware Help at’ or otherwise spreading the word will help as well. Oh, and in case you were, like I was, wondering–DTRT stands for ‘do the right thing.

And if you want to know more:

Monday, 09 March 2015

Participate in the date selection for the Randa Meetings 2015

Mario Fux | 21:46, Monday, 09 March 2015

I’m close to being back to KDE joy and work. Just one last exam on Thursday and I’m done with my final exams. But let’s concentrate on the subject.

For the topic of the Randa Meetings this year it’s planned to focus on tablet/smartphone and touch platforms and make our software fit for them (e.g. touch ui for Kdenlive or Android CI) and work further on already adapted software (e.g. KDE Connect, GCompris or KPhotoAlbum). And e.g. the Visual Design Group of KDE might help to design these new UIs (e.g. a tablet-ui for KRecipes where you can recook all the great dishes of the recent Randa Meetings ;-) or make them better. Or what are your ideas for this topic?

So if you think you should be part of this endeavour and you want to come to Randa this year please go to Doodle and select the start date that fits you best. The dates that can be selected are the possible start dates of the respective Randa Meetings. Just add another 6 days till you need to leave Randa again ;-) .

Oh and please forward this information to potential other participants and people you think should come as well.

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Konqi – male or female?

Mario Fux | 21:10, Monday, 09 March 2015

Konqi – the friendly dragon is our well-known mascot. There is the traditional one which didn’t change much over the years and was even created in plush. And on our historic KDE clipart page you find some versions of Konqi and his friend Katie.

There is even a moving Konqi and if you’re talented enough you might create your very own Konqui.

Then there is a collection of new Konqis by Tyson Tan. (And this is not the place to discuss which ones are nicer and you like more. As it’s my blog I dare to say that I like both versions very much. So thanks Tyson for the new ones and whoever did the historic version (after Kandalf?;-)).

But what about the question in the title of this blog post? Today I found some time to read about the “Plasma Sprint 2015″ by Ken Vermette (kver). Thanks Ken for this nice outside (and now inside ;-) perspective. Ken is one of several people of our Visual Design Group. Under this blog post I read a comment with the question “why are there no women in the picture?” (another and IMHO very important question but not the topic if this blog post, so for another time!) and later a small discussion about Konqi and his friend Katie and why a female version and why a pink dress and eyelashes. Unfortunately the comments are gone now (although they were very well written and had some good ideas and perspectives).

And as this is a topic (gender research) that interests me very much I had a short discussion with my wife how it would and could be possible to draw a female Konqi without using any gender stereotypes. We didn’t find an answer.

But in the end the answer is actually quite simple (thanks again Ken and his commenters for the insight) and even visible on this picture: KDE Dragons Ensemble.

Konqi is female, male and nothing at all. Just take a look at the ensemble above and you’ll see that there are a lot of different Konqis, different colors and some might be male, some female and some something else. So there’s no specific need for an additional female version of Konqi as we’ve already female Konqis. But there is always need for new Konqis…

But the ultimate proof (at least IMHO) gave my son when I asked him (he is a huge fan of Konqi and I’m completely innocent about this fact ;-) if Konqi is female or male? He answered: “It’s Konqi.”

PS: Another question could be (for bikesheding purposes ;-) : if our mascot’s name is “Konqi” or “Konqui”. (Please note the irony, sarcasm or rhetorical character of this question ;-) .

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Friday, 06 March 2015

How to create good OpenPGP keys

Seravo | 14:38, Friday, 06 March 2015

The OpenPGP standard and the most popular open source program that implements it, GnuPG, have been well tested and widely deployed over the last decades. At least for the time being they are considered to be cryptographically unbroken tools for encrypting and verifying messages and other data.

photo: keys

Due to the lack of easy-to-use tools and integrated user interfaces, large scale use of OpenPGP, in for example encrypting emails, hasn’t happened. There are however some new interesting efforts like EnigmailMailPile, Mailvelope and End-to-end that might change the game. There are also new promising tools in the area of key management (establishing trust between parties) like Gnome Keysign and

Despite the PGP’s failure to solve email encryption globally, OpenPGP has been very successful in other areas. For example it is the de-facto tool for signing digital data. If you download a software package online, and want to verify that the package you have on your computer is actually the same package as released by the original author (and not a tampered one), you can use the OpenPGP signature of the author to verify authenticity. Also, even though it is not easy enough for day-to-day usage, if a person wants to send a message to another person and they want to send it encrypted, using OpenPGP is still the only solution for doing it. Alternative messaging channels like Hangouts or Telegram are just not enough widely used, so email prevails – and for email OpenPGP is the best encryption tool.

How to install GnuPG?

Installing GnuPG is easy. Just use the software manager of your Linux distro to install it, or download the installation package for Mac OS X via

There are two generations of GnuPG, the 2.x series and the 1.4.x series. For compatibility reasons it is still advisable to use the 1.4.x versions.

How to create keys?

Without you own key you can only send encrypted data or verify the signature of other users. In order to be able to receive encrypted data or to sign some data yourself, you need to create a key pair for yourself. The key pair consists for two keys:

  • a secret key you shall protect and which is the only key that can be used to decrypt data sent to you or to make signatures
  • a public key which you publish and which others use to encrypt data for you or use to verify your signatures

Before you generate your keys, you need to edit your gpg configuration file to make sure the strongest algorithms are used instead of the default options in GnuPG. If you are using a very recent version of GnuPG it might already have better defaults.

For brevity, we only provide the command line instructions here. Edit the config file by running for example nano ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf and adding the algorithm settings:

personal-digest-preferences SHA512
cert-digest-algo SHA512
default-preference-list SHA512 SHA384 SHA256 SHA224 AES256 AES192 AES CAST5 ZLIB BZIP2 ZIP Uncompressed

If the file does not exist, just run gpg and press Ctrl-C to cancel. This will create the configuration directory and file automatically.

Once done with that preperation, actually generate the key by running gpg --gen-key

For key type select “(1) RSA and RSA (default)“. RSA is the preferred algorithm nowadays and this option also automatically creates a subkey for encryption, something that might be useful later but which you don’t immediately need to learn about.

As the key size enter “4096” as 2048 bit keys are not considered strong enough anymore.

A good value for expiration is 3 years, so enter “3y” when asked for how long the key should be valid. Don’t worry – you don’t have to create a new key again. You can some day update your key expiry date, even after it expired. Having keys that never expires is bad practice. Old never-expiring keys might come back haunting you some day.

For the name and email choose your real name and real email. OpenPGP is not an anonymity tool, but a tool to encrypt to and verify signatures of other users. Other people will be evaluating if a key is really yours, so having a false name would be confusing.

When GnuPG asks for a comment, don’t enter anything. Comments are unnecessary and sometimes simply confusing, so avoid making one.

The last step is to define a passphrase. Follow the guidelines of our password best practices article and choose a complex yet easy to remember password, and make sure you never forget it.

$ gpg --gen-key 
gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.10; Copyright (C) 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Please select what kind of key you want:
   (1) RSA and RSA (default)
   (2) DSA and Elgamal
   (3) DSA (sign only)
   (4) RSA (sign only)
Your selection? 1
RSA keys may be between 1024 and 4096 bits long.
What keysize do you want? (2048) 4096
Requested keysize is 4096 bits
Please specify how long the key should be valid.
         0 = key does not expire
        = key expires in n days
      w = key expires in n weeks
      m = key expires in n months
      y = key expires in n years
Key is valid for? (0) 3y
Key expires at Mon 05 Mar 2018 02:39:23 PM EET
Is this correct? (y/N) y

You need a user ID to identify your key; the software constructs the user ID
from the Real Name, Comment and Email Address in this form:
    "Heinrich Heine (Der Dichter) <>"

Real name: Lisa Simpson
Email address:
You selected this USER-ID:
    "Lisa Simpson <>"

Change (N)ame, (C)omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? O
You need a Passphrase to protect your secret key.

We need to generate a lot of random bytes. It is a good idea to perform
some other action (type on the keyboard, move the mouse, utilize the
disks) during the prime generation; this gives the random number
generator a better chance to gain enough entropy.

Not enough random bytes available.  Please do some other work to give
the OS a chance to collect more entropy! (Need 284 more bytes)

gpg: key 3E44A531 marked as ultimately trusted
public and secret key created and signed.

gpg: checking the trustdb
gpg: 3 marginal(s) needed, 1 complete(s) needed, PGP trust model
gpg: depth: 0  valid:   1  signed:   0  trust: 0-, 0q, 0n, 0m, 0f, 1u
gpg: next trustdb check due at 2018-03-05
pub   4096R/3E44A531 2015-03-06 [expires: 2018-03-05]
      Key fingerprint = 4C63 2BAB 4562 5E09 392F  DAA4 C6E4 158A 3E44 A531
uid                  Lisa Simpson <>
sub   4096R/75BB2DC6 2015-03-06 [expires: 2018-03-05]


At this stage you are done and can start using your new key. For different usages of OpenPGP you need to consult other documentation or install software that makes it easy. All software that use OpenPGP will automatically detect your ~/.gnupg directory in your home folder and use the keys from there.

Store securely

Make sure you home directory is encrypted, or maybe even your whole hard drive. On Linux it is easy with eCryptfs or LUKS/dm-crypt. If your hard drive is stolen or your keys leak in some other way, the thief can decrypt all your data and impersonate you by signing things digitally with your key.

Also if you don’t make regular backups of your home directory, you really should start doing it now so that you don’t lose your key or any other data either.

Additional identities (emails)

If you want to add more email addresses in the key gpg --edit-key 12345678 and in the prompt enter command adduid, which will start the dialog for adding another name and email on your key.

More guides

Encryption, and in particular secure unbreakable encryption is really hard. Good tools can hide away the complexity, but unfortunately modern tools and operating systems don’t have these features fully integrated yet. Users need to learn some of the technical stuff to be able to use different tools themselves.

Because OpenPGP is difficult to use, the net is full of lots of different guides. Unfortunately most of them are outdated or have errors. Here are a few guides we can recommend for futher reading:

Wednesday, 04 March 2015

Endocode proud to sponsor Free Software Foundation Europe

Computer Floss | 08:39, Wednesday, 04 March 2015

Endocode has recently become a sponsor of the Free Software Foundation Europe. We proudly do this because free/libre/open source software (FLOSS) is essential to us and the FSFE campaigns on our behalf (and yours too!) to defend and promote it.

We judge FLOSS essential for several reasons:

  • We know that FLOSS is critical for a society like ours, one that is dependent on information technology. In a software-powered world, ensuring that software is a common good for all (and not a secret in the hands of a few) means that people are empowered by technology and not restricted by it.
  • What’s more, we at Endocode all come from backgrounds in FLOSS. Each one of has for years been involved with various open source communities and have come together in a company that provides multiple services to numerous organisations – services built on the power of open source software. Without FLOSS, Endocode wouldn’t exist.
  • And that power translates into altogether more practical reasons for valuing FLOSS. We know that being able to examine and adapt software gives us the power to do more for our customers and ourselves. We know that FLOSS helps us to reduce costs and increase quality. We see using open source software as the superior way to build large, complex and robust systems.

The FSFE fights many campaigns, such as promoting awareness among the public, pushing for FLOSS and open standards in the public sector, and defending us against menaces like software patents.

Endocode has become a silver sponsor of the FSFE. In so doing, we recognise their contribution and join the many other individuals and organisations (like HP, Intel  and LibreOffice) who want to see the FSFE continue doing its great work.



Sunday, 01 March 2015

FOSDEM 2015: some interviews

FSFE Fellowship Vienna » English | 12:56, Sunday, 01 March 2015

Horst from visited the FOSDEM this year and caught the mood there in some nice interviews. I just wanted to share it with you. Not all of the interviews he posted in his German blog article are done in English, but at least four of them:

  • Knitting machine A kniting machine from the seventies brought to new life with free software.
  • Mageia Linux Community A woman overcame a personal loss with the help of a friendly free software comunity.
  • EPFSUG Erik K Josefsson raises awareness of free software in the European Parliament.
  • Diaspora Jason Robinson explains how the decentralised social media platform works.

Saturday, 28 February 2015 at conference on 21st of February

FSFE Fellowship Vienna » English | 11:56, Saturday, 28 February 2015 - Computer Support for Free Software
Gespräche am Infostand
Leute nahmen bereitwillig und interessiert unser Infomaterial
Viele Besuche den ganzen Tag über is a web platform founded by some members of the Viennese Fellowship group of the FSFE. It aims to help people who are interested in using free software but who do not want to administrate their own computers. At least in Austria all support offers for free software users are aimed at businesses. Therefore only techically interested private people could start using free software in the past if they didn’t happen know others well aquainted with free software willing to help them. To close this gap offers a simple search field to type in buzz words. After submitting the form a list of people knowledgeable with this subjects on free software systems is displayed. People searching for help then can browse through this results and can contact the persons they want to consult. The platform is merely a way to connect people. So all terms can be defined by the people interacting with each other. Some people offer help on a voluntary basis. Others will help for a fee. The only condition for experts offering their services on the platform is the preference of free software.

The team of invites free software experts to create a profile. After applying to be listed the team reviews the profile and releases the experts to be listed on the platform. At the moment is in it’s trial phase and does offer services in Vienna only. If everything works out as intended the local restriction can be left behind. Even others can get the freely licenced python code on bitbucket and offer similar services independently.

On 21st of February was invited to participate as one of 50 initiatives on a conference about wellbeing for all (Gutes Leben für alle). The project was explicitly invited because we applied in a contest a few months ago. The contest aimed to choose the best ideas for sustainable and fair development in our society. didn’t win anything back then, but the organizers of the conference still wanted us to participate at the conferences fair of initiatives.

Originally the organizers aimed to welcome about 250 people at the recently build new campus of the Viennese universitiy for economics. But in a very short period of time everything was overbooked and in the end about 850 registrations exceeded all expectations. A young assistent from the university told me about a little group of alternative thinkers at the university responsible for such events. Normally nobody would expect the university of economics to host such an event. But some people obviously could move something even in this traditionally not very progressive environment.

The fair of initiatives covered a lot of different subjects. The majority was about better ways to use and share our ressources. There was a focus on local initiatives for connecting people with different ressources and/or skills. Over all was received very well. The audience was open in a very similar way than the visitors of the Veganmania summer festivals we attended in the last years with a boot of the Viennese Fellowship group of the FSFE. They where open to consider free software as an alternative and did quickly understand the problems with closed standards and proprietary software production. One difference to the people met on the Veganmania summer festivals was the big user base of Apple computers. I think I never met a target group with more individuals using Apple products. I would guess at least eighty percent of the many people I talked to at the event told me to use OSX from Apple.

We set up our very little boot as one of the first initiatives at about 10 am. Even if we had more leaflets, folders and stickers on free software and open standards than any other initiative on other subjects we had only about 60 x 30 centimeters space on a table. It was tightly packed with colorful, inviting material. We could only put our books about free software on display in the late afternoon after some initiatives left and we could use the only then spare space on the table. We where quite buzy the whole day with many interested people and shortly after 9pm we packed everything together and left the venue because it got closed up.

Even if we could not reach tousands of people (like on events such as the Game City fair) I still think it was very well worth taking the time since the quality of our conversations was very high and we still could introduce many people to the virtues of free software.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

PostBooks accounting and ERP suite coming to Fedora - fsfe | 21:08, Thursday, 26 February 2015

PostBooks has been successful on Debian and Ubuntu for a while now and for all those who asked, it is finally coming to Fedora.

The review request has just been submitted and the spec files have also been submitted to xTuple as pull requests so future upstream releases can be used with rpmbuild to create packages.

Can you help?

A few small things outstanding:

  • Putting a launcher icon in the GNOME menus
  • Packaging the schemas - they are in separate packages on Debian/Ubuntu. Download them here and load the one you want into your PostgreSQL instance using the instructions from the Debian package.

Community support

The xTuple forum is a great place to ask any questions and get to know the community.


Here is a quick look at the login screen on a Fedora 19 host:

Student papers, Reda report amendments, birthday and more!

Creative Destruction & Me » FLOSS | 11:23, Thursday, 26 February 2015

I had two rather busy weeks doing plenty of exciting things. It felt really productive and fun. However when I spoke about it with friends recently, they said they had no clue what I was working on and sometimes did not even know where exactly I was traveling. So, there you have it: The Reda report needed amending, I am preparing a presentation about the role of patents in software, at Endocode we are developing on the company strategy, there was a CoreOS meetup, an Endocode meetup, and more work on the employee share program. My wife had her birthday and we partied a lot. The Open Invention Network is preparing an update to it’s Linux System Definition. The students presented the remaining papers for the winter term “Open Source and Intellectual Property” course at TU Berlin. And I had a flu. Want to know more?

In January Julia Reda presented her report on harmonization of copyright in the EU. Through OpenforumEurope, I participated with others in providing input for the report. Once the report had been presented, feedback was opened again in the form of amendments. The same group is now preparing the submission of suggested amendments to the “Reda Report”. This is one of the most exciting processes at EU level at the moment, I am very glad to be part of it.

The Joint Research Center of the European Commission will have a conference on “Innovation in a European Digital Single Market – The Role of Patents” on March 17. I was invited to speak about the patentability of software. In the speaker panel the number of proponents clearly outweights the number of critical voices. Because of that I will focus on giving a comprehensive overview of the reasons why the Free Software community is rather critical towards software patents. To develop the presentation, I am consulting with FSFE, OpenforumAcademy and ideally as many other experts as possible.

I wrote about Endocode and it’s philosophy here. The Endocode experiment so far has been going really well, an awesome team has assembled and we are working on some super-interesting stuff, as you can see in our Github account. It is time to look at what to do next, now that the initial goals have been reached. We had a first of a series of workshops with an external moderator, and started discussing what makes Endocode special, and in which direction we want it to develop.

Together with many other Endocoders, I attended the Rocket and the App Container Spec meetup. Containers are an exciting technology, and Endocode is working both in deploying them in projects as well as developing on some of the basic management tools. Jonathan Boulle presented especially about the app container spec is developed collaboratively out in the open. Great event, great presentation and free drinks, pizza and sushi. It feels great to be diving into stuff like that.

Endocode also has meetups (yay). Our meetups are, at least for now, internal events where Endocoders share interesting stuff they hack on or learned. The topics are not necessarily work related, more importantly they should be fascinating :-) This time, on February 10, it involved a Kinect and tracking skeletons and people that looked like ogers with two heads.

Right before that we had a presentation by the lawyer we work with about legal aspects of setting up an employee share program. It is not as easy as it sounds, mostly due to issues of taxation. “Virtual stocks” are an option. They have the disadvantage of not giving the employee an actual voting influence on the company. We will have to go back to the drawing board with this idea and discuss it with the employees.

February 16 is Alexandra’s birthday. We started to celebrate with breakfast at one of our favorite places, Tomasa in Kreuzberg. We both had to go to work that day. After a top-secret meeting :-) until 7pm I came home to find the house packed with friends. Some of them had been expected, and some simply drove for an hour to stop by. What a nice surprise!

The Open Invention Network is preparing an update to the Linux System Definition. The Linux System Definition defines the technical scope of OIN’s patent non-aggression community. Since the FLOSS ecosystem evolves at a pretty fast pace, the definition is updated on a regular basis. The process involves many stakeholders and it is important to make sure everybody is well informed and on the same page. This is an exciting process, even though it involves numerous phone conferences with Japan and the west coast at strange times.

The semester is almost over, so the course “Open Source and IP” at TU Berlin is wrapping up. The final student presentations where held on Feb 11, then it was time to grade the papers. The attendees were international and interdisciplinary again, which made for quite some interesting results. Then I caught a flu and was out for a day.

Finally last week I went to Erfurt for some C++ and Qt hacking. This is some rare fun these days, so I really enjoyed it. I do still hope to find more time in the future to do some technical work. It does seem like a dream, though. On the weekend we did some more birthday partying. Now it is time to do the same thing all over again :-)

Filed under: Coding, CreativeDestruction, English, FLOSS, KDE, OSS

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Lenovo: What Were They Thinking?

Paul Boddie's Free Software-related blog » English | 18:16, Wednesday, 25 February 2015

In the past few days, there have been plenty of reports of Lenovo shipping products with a form of adware known as Superfish, originating from a company of the same name, that interferes with the normal operation of Web browser software to provide “shopping suggestions” in content displayed by the browser. This would be irritating enough all by itself, but what made the bundled software involved even more worrying was that it also manages to insert itself as an eavesdropper on the user’s supposedly secure communications, meaning that communications conducted between the user and Internet sites such as online banks, merchants, workplaces and private-and-confidential services are all effectively compromised.

Making things even worse still, the mechanism employed to pursue this undesirable eavesdropping managed to prove highly insecure in itself, exposing Lenovo customers to attack from others. So, we start this sordid affair with a Lenovo “business decision” about bundling some company’s software and end up with Lenovo’s customers having their security compromised for the dubious “benefit” of being shown additional, unsolicited advertisements in Web pages that didn’t have them in the first place. One may well ask what Lenovo’s decision-makers were thinking?

Symptoms of a Disease

Indeed, this affair gives us a fine opportunity to take a critical look at the way the bundling of software has corrupted the sale of personal computers for years, if not decades. First of all, most customers have never been given a choice of operating system or to be able to buy a computer without an operating system, considering the major channels and vendors to which most buyers are exposed: the most widely-available and widely-advertised computers only offer some Windows variant, and manufacturers typically insist that they cannot offer anything else – or even nothing at all – for a variety of feeble reasons. And when asked to provide a refund for this unwanted product that has been forced on the purchaser, some manufacturers even claim that it is free or that someone else has subsidised the cost, and that there is no refund to be had.

This subsidy – some random company acting like a kind of wealthy distant relative paying for the “benefit” of bundled proprietary software – obviously raises competition-related issues, but it also raises the issue of why anyone would want to pay for someone else to get something at no cost. Even in a consumer culture where getting more goodies is seen as surely being a good thing because it means more toys to play with, one cannot help but be a little suspicious: surely something is too good to be true if someone wants to give you things that they would otherwise make you pay for? And now we know that it is: the financial transaction that enriched Lenovo was meant to give Superfish access to its customers’ sensitive information.

Of course, Lenovo’s updated statement on the matter (expect more updates, particularly if people start to talk about class action lawsuits) tries to downplay the foul play: the somewhat incoherent language (example: “Superfish technology is purely based on contextual/image and not behavioral”) denies things like user profiling and uses terminology that is open to quite a degree of interpretation (example: “Users are not tracked nor re-targeted”). What the company lawyers clearly don’t want to talk about is what information was being collected and where it was being whisked off to, keeping the legal attack surface minimal and keeping those denials of negligence strenuous (“we did not know about this potential security vulnerability until yesterday”). Maybe some detail about those “server connections shut down in January” would shed some light on these matters, but the lawyers know that with that comes the risk of exposing a paper trail showing that everybody knew what they were getting into.

Your Money isn’t Good Enough

One might think that going to a retailer, giving them your money, and getting a product to take home would signal the start of a happy and productive experience with a purchase. But it seems that for some manufacturers, getting the customer’s money just isn’t enough: they just have to make a bit of money on the side, and perhaps keep making money from the product after the customer has taken it home, too. Consumer electronics and products from the “content industries” have in particular fallen victim to the introduction of advertising. Even though you thought you had bought something outright, advertisements and other annoyances sneak into the experience, often in the hope that you will pay extra to make them go away.

And so, you get the feeling that your money somehow isn’t good enough for these people. Maybe if you were richer or knew the right people, your money would be good enough and you wouldn’t need to suffer adverts or people spying on you, but you aren’t rich or well-connected and just have to go along with the indignity of it all. Naturally, the manufacturers would take offence at such assertions; they would claim that they have to take bribes subsidies to be able to keep their own prices competitive with the rest of the market, and of course everybody else is taking the money. That might be almost believable if it weren’t for the fact that the prices of things like bundled operating systems and “productivity software” – the stuff that you can’t get a refund for – are completely at the discretion of the organisations who make it. (It also doesn’t help these companies that they seem to be unable to deliver a quality product with a stable set of internal components, or that they introduce stupid hardware features that make their products excruciating to use.)

Everybody Hurts

For the most part, it probably is the case that if you are well-resourced and well-connected, you can buy the most expensive computer with the most expensive proprietary software for it, and maybe the likes of Lenovo won’t have tainted it with their adware-of-the-month. But naturally, proprietary software doesn’t provide you with any inherent assurances that it hasn’t been compromised: only Free Software can offer you that, and even then you must be able to insist on the right to be able to build and install that software on the hardware yourself. Coincidentally, I did once procure a Lenovo computer from a retailer that only supplied them with GNU/Linux preinstalled, with Lenovo being a common choice amongst such retailers because the distribution channel apparently made it possible for them to resell such products without Windows or other proprietary products ever becoming involved.

But sometimes the rich and well-connected become embroiled in surveillance and spying in situations of their own making. Having seen people become so infatuated with Microsoft Outlook that they seemingly need to have something bearing the name on every device they use, it is perhaps not surprising that members of the European Parliament had apparently installed Microsoft’s mobile application bearing the Outlook brand. Unfortunately for them, Microsoft’s “app” sends sensitive information including their authentication credentials off into the cloud, putting their communications (and the safety of their correspondents, in certain cases) at risk.

Some apologists may indeed claim that Microsoft and their friends and partners collecting everybody’s sensitive details for their own convenience is “not an issue for the average user”, but in fact it is a huge issue: when people become conditioned into thinking that surrendering their privacy, accepting the inconveniences of intrusive advertising, always being in debt to the companies from which they have bought things (even when those purchases have actually kept those companies in business), and giving up control of their own belongings are all “normal” things and that they do not deserve any better, then we all start to lose control over the ways in which we use technology as well as the technologies we are able to use. Notions of ownership and democracy quickly become attacked and eroded.

What Were They Thinking?

We ultimately risk some form of authority, accountable or otherwise, telling us that we no longer deserve to be able to enjoy things like privacy. Their reasons are always scary ones, but in practice it usually has something to do with them not wanting ordinary people doing unexpected or bothersome things that might question or undermine their own very comfortable (and often profitable) position telling everybody else what to do, what to worry about, what to buy, and so on. And it turns out that a piece of malware that just has to see everything in its rampant quest to monetize every last communication of the unwitting user now gives us a chance to really think about how we really want our computers and their suppliers to behave.

So, what were they thinking at Lenovo? That Superfish was an easy way to make a few extra bucks? That their customers don’t deserve anything better than to have their private communications infused with advertising? That their customers don’t need to know that people are tampering with their Internet connection? That the private information of their customers was theirs to sell to anyone offering them some money? Did nobody consider the implications of any of this at all, or was there a complete breakdown in ethics amongst those responsible? Was it negligence or contempt for their own customers that facilitated this pursuit of greed?

Sadly, the evidence from past privacy scandals involving major companies indicates that regulatory or criminal proceedings are unlikely, merely fuelling suspicions that supposed corporate incompetence – the existence of conveniently unlocked backdoors – actually serves various authorities rather nicely. It is therefore up to us to remain vigilant and, of course, to exercise our own forms of reward for those who act in our interests, along with punishment for those whose behaviour is unacceptable in a fair and democratic society.

Maybe after a break from seeing any of it for a while, our business and our money will matter more to Lenovo than that of some shady “advertising” outfit with the dubious and slightly unbelievable objective of showing more adverts to people while they do their online banking. And by then, maybe Lenovo (and everyone else) will let us install whatever software we like on their products, because many people aren’t going to be trusting the bundled software for a long time to come after this. Not that they should ever have trusted it in the first place, of course.

In The End Freedom Is What Matters

Max's weblog » English | 02:03, Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Yesterday I’ve been asked by a good friend of mine why I am investing so much time in the FSFE (Free Software¹ Foundation Europe) instead of putting more energy in other organisations with more focus on privacy issues. The background of his question is that I’m quite concerned about governmental and commercial surveillance and the lack of really private ways to communicate with each other and the impact this has on our online and offline behaviour. With Laura Poitras’ recent movie “Citizenfour” awarded with an Oscar, I use the media attention as an icebreaker to talk with my friends about these topics if the situation allows it.

Back to question which can also be read as “Why are you investing your time in Free Software instead of privacy which seems to touch you more?”. To be honest I had to think about this a bit. But then I remembered Jacob Appelbaum saying[…] what people used to call liberty and freedom we now call privacy“. And I think that’s the reason why I stick with putting my energy as activist in FSFE rather than in other (very good!) organisations: Because I think that freedom is the foundation of everything we call privacy today and in the future. I’ll explain that in the following paragraphs.It already has been said in many blog posts, articles, press releases, and interviews from people in- and outside the Free Software movement that Free Software (sometimes also called Open Source) is the key to privacy, mostly because only Free Software is the only sane way how to publish serious encryption methods. Of course the very basis for encryption is trust, and trust is only gained by transparency and the possibility to look behind the scenes.

But for me, it goes much further than just the rational reason why Free Software is the basis for privacy programs. I invest my time in the FSFE because it’s about freedom. We can have as good privacy-enhancing tools as possible, without freedom they are worth nothing. I’m not (only) talking about physical freedom, but more about the freedom to interact with the society in a way one can determine. Imagine following – not unrealistic – situation: You can communicate with your friends anonymously over perfectly encrypted channels and this is good. But now your country’s financial office urges you to give information about your tax situation in an electronical way – which is only possible by using a proprietary (and therefore insecure) operating system. And inside the tax administration all your sensitive files reside on proprietary servers, are opened on insecure systems, and with zero transparency.

Or another example: You are oblidged by your internet provider to use their router and you’re not allowed to replace it by an alternative device. Even your country’s net agency or economical ministry allows it, which is the current state in many European countries. You may use Tor or VPN but you still don’t know if they track metadata like your connection times and volume, MAC addresses, number of connected devices, preferred anonymisation techniques, or phone call destinations. Or they just throttle all communication which they cannot read or which is directed to services like Tor.

In these cases software privacy is of little use. It’s about regulations, it’s about changing the toughts of political actors, it’s about dirty politics and dust-dry laws – and it’s about freedom. About our freedom of choice, not only which software we want to use, but also the ways we want to communicate, which devices and file format we want to choose, and the things we want to say publicly and not only encrypted in the dark. Privacy is necessary for situations in which we cannot speak or act freely, but freedom is the only way how to improve the world we’re living in so that we won’t have to fight for the right of privacy anymore. And freedom in all ways is what the FSFE stands for, not only by improving software but by informing the public and politicians, and by putting political pressure on decision makers. Because freedom is the foundation for a society in which someday privacy can be the most normal thing.

This, dear friend, is the reason why I volunteer for the FSFE – and therefore also for privacy.

¹ Means software which you are allowed to use for every purpose, which everybody can inspect, modify and redistribute

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