FSF highlights two projects that can replace Skype

GNU Free Call wants to help people easily connect with each other without relying on any one centralized network. To do that, they’re creating a peer-to-peer calling network, along with client software for traditional desktop computers and mobile devices. The project recently released stable call server software, GNU SIP Witch 1.0, and now the team is beginning to focus its efforts on building the client software.

WebRTC is coordinating an effort to let people call each other and hold videoconferences just by visiting a Web site.

via Two new projects can help free software replace Skype — Free Software Foundation — working together for free software.

Technology is changing politics

That’s the theme of the Personal Democracy Forum that started today in New York.

Too often, the discussion of technology and politics employs a kind of lazy shorthand. We say things like “The Internet is revolutionizing politics,” or “the Internet is helping dictators,” as if a set of network protocols and bits and wires could do anything on its own. Unfortunately, that shorthand often infects our discussion of current events, and we end up debating things like “TwitterRevolution” or “Facebook effect” rather than the real issues, which are what people do with these tools. The Internet, after all, doesn’t empower anyone. We empower ourselves.

Don’t miss the plenary keynote with Dan Sinker, Michael Wesch, Lisa Gansky, Lawrence Lessig, Andrew Rasiej and Eben Moglen that will probably tell the public more about the FreedomBox.

Watch live streaming video from pdf2011 at livestream.com

Silly search engine puts a free pool in FSF office

Just spotted via John Sullivan: if you happen to search for a ‘free open pool boston, MA‘ Google will tell you that the Free Software Foundation has one. It makes sense: next to free beer you need a free pool. You won’t find free beer in FSF offices though.

BTW, Bing Maps doesn’t find any pool in Boston with that query.

Oracle 'donates' OpenOffice.org to Apache foundation

Oracle has done what Sun should have done a long time ago: put OO.org code into the hand of an independent foundation. The good news is that now a wider participation from corporations and individuals is possible. Hell, even Microsoft can now participate into OO.org development. I hope that soon the fork can be reconciled, too.

My first thoughts is that Apache Foundation is a good home for Open Document Format, ODF. If the license will also change to Apache there will be more opportunities to create an ecosystem on top of the standardized format.The free software movement needs a thriving ecosystem around ODF so that we can edit and exchange office documents between computers, mobile and other devices without sacrifices. So far this ecosystem has failed to materialize and OpenOffice.org as a tool has many flaws (bad/old GUI, heavy and in areas like presentation is just bad).

I personally welcome the change as I never believed that The Document Foundation had enough steam in its engine to radically improve the product. But I believe it can still maintain and improve LibreOffice until Apache’s community will start rolling the next generation of desktop productivity tools.

Oracle ‘donates’ OpenOffice.org to Apache foundation | ZDNet UK.

Comments from Rob Weir and Novell’s Michael Meeks.

Why it's fair to put GNU in GNU/Linux

I keep meeting people that get this wrong and start very boring discussions about the name of operating systems based on Linux kernel. Latest storm started with Pedro Côrte-Real ‘How much GNU is there in GNU/Linux’ and the subsequent comments on LWN.net. GNU is the foundation of a very powerful idea: that one day  computers would run on a free (as in freedom) operating system. GNU is not an operating system, GNU cannot be measured in lines of code. The lines of code of GNU that are copyright by the FSF are what made everything else available, from Linux to Android to Apache. If it wasn’t for the early years of development of the GNU system by Stallman we would have probably never had what we have now.

Call it whatever you think is fair but remember that this is not about lines of code, it’s not a technical issue: calling the system GNU/Linux is paying a tribute to the idea that computer users need to have a free operating system. I wish the FSF would make this more prominent on gnu.org.

Google extends copyright with YouTube Store

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work (Wikipedia). Google is adding a new right: the right to exclude you from configuring your device the way you want.

Google is excluding jailbroken (rooted) Android phones from accessing the pay-per-view YouTube channel, you won’t be able to play the streamed file on your own device.

Google – the vendor – and the studios – the rights holders – are using copyright to control something much more profound than mere copying. In this version of copyright, making a movie gives you the right to specify what kind of device can play the movie back, and how that device must be configured.

via Cory Doctorow Google’s YouTube policy for Android users is copyright extremism

MediaGoblin project brings GNU into the cloud

GNU MediaGoblin is a new software project that will enable people to publish, share and distribute their photos, video and other media in the cloud. Think of it as mix of social sites like Flickr, YouTube, DeviantArt or Facebook but better. Being a GNU project, it respects users freedom will be licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License and federated using OStatus. Like Status.net and Identi.ca, you’ll be able to run your instance of MediaGoblin and still be able to follow your friends across different domains.

It’s good to see the GNU project lead the way in cloud computing and provide an example of how to do social web applications right, respecting users freedom. Just like the FSF took the lead in the late ’80s redefining the operating systems with GNU, there is a need to experimenting with code while keeping moral leadership. As Simon Phipps wrote, the cloud is here to stay so we better learn fast how to transport the principles that worked for servers and desktop computers to cloud and mobile.

The team developing MediaGoblin has a long series of success: Chris Webber and Will Kahn-Greene, both longtime Miro contributors, are leading the Development Team. Matt Lee and Rob Myers from FooCorp, the makers of GNU FM (the software that powers Libre.fm) and GNU social, are providing infrastructure. Deb Nicholson, founder of the Women’s Caucus, is helping with community outreach.

Good luck to all of them: I hope to see working code soon.


Looking for freedom respecting alternatives to Skype

Now that Microsoft has bought Skype many people I know are wondering what will happen to Skype’s GNU/Linux client. Will Microsoft keep it or will they drop support for it? I don’t know, nobody can predict what Microsoft will do at the moment.

From a conversation I started on identi.ca I learned a few things about the state of VoIP with free/libre software. The good news is that all you need is to make voice calls over Internet, computer to computer, there are many alternatives based on free software and open standards. The two main protocols are XMPP and SIP. Software like Jitsi (aka sip-communicator), Ekiga, Coccinella, QuteCom (aka openwengo), Telepathy/Empathy, Pidgin and other provide the same basic voice calls.

Some of these programs claim to have video capabilities but I haven’t tested this function deeply. The fact that Carlo can’t make video calls with Ekiga is not a good start. I tested Empathy video call with a friend on Empathy, both of us using our Google Talk accounts on Ubuntu and the video call worked. I’m not aware of any other XMPP server that allows video calls or if there are services using software from Muji project. I learned a little bit about SIP Witch, OpenMSRP and GNU Telephony, all seem very promising tools to help stay away from proprietary VoIP software.

Some clients, like Jitsi work also on Windows and Mac OS X. Others are GNU/Linux specific but this shouldn’t be a problem: being based on open standard one should be able to run any other SIP or XMPP client on those platform and still be able to call each other. A search on iTunes App Store and Android Market reveals lots of SIP and XMPP clients, I’m not sure about their capabilities though.

None of these clients allow desktop sharing: this is not a big limitation for me though, as I rarely used that. The main features missing from all these programs are:

  1. a global addressbook to discover your friend’s address
  2. simple ways to make calls from computer to phone or viceversa

Discoverability of new accounts is crucial to drive adoption: I have lots of contacts in my addressbook and I would like to be able to find them online instead of having to ask them for their latest VoIP address. The complexity of SIP broker white pages is intimidating, I’m not even sure I understand how it works.  Honestly, I don’t even want to know: I want to call my friends and family.

Enabling calls from and to regular phones could finance further development of these applications. I can’t believe that none of them seem to offer an easy way to buy credit from the application itself.

Since the Free Software Foundation considers a replacement to Skype an High Priority project I would suggest them to put it on a more visible page.  I keep looking for a good free software alternative to Skype that I can use to talk to my mom: leave your thoughts and notes in the comments.

The horrible Terms of Service in Nintendo 3DS

Free Software Foundation has published a new campaign to inform Nintendo 3DS users that the Terms of Service of the machine are offensive and dangerous.

The 3DS has a videocamera that may be used to take pictures and videos of friends and family: just using Nintendo 3DS you give them the right to do whatever they want with your pictures and videos.

By accepting this Agreement or using a Nintendo 3DS System or the Nintendo 3DS Service, you also grant to Nintendo a worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display your User Content in whole or in part and to incorporate your User Content in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed, including for promotional or marketing purposes. (Chapter 1, Nintendo 3DS End User License Agreement)

And there is more: the Nintendo 3DS will send the Activity Log to Nintendo when the wifi is connected, share your information and use it to target advertisements to you. Nintendo states that they “may update or change the Nintendo 3DS System or the Nintendo 3DS Service in whole or in part, without notice to you.” Children under 13 should not use their real names to create their game nickname, take pictures with the built-in camera, or participate in any number of ways the 3DS is set up to encourage. Read the details on Brick Nintendo before they brick you! on DefectiveByDesign.

This awful behavior from such arrogant companies cannot be tolerated! Send Nintendo a brick: the campaign crew of Defective by Design wants to flood Reggie Fils-Aime, President and COO of Nintendo of America office with cute bricks to let them know that Nintendo 3DS Terms of Service are unacceptable and that DRM must be dropped. Donate as little as $10 to Brick Nintendo before they brick you.