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.

First action from Microsoft after buying Skype

Every time Microsoft has the chance to demonstrate it can play nice with free software/open source companies, they fail. After buying Skype, Microsoft has canceled the agreement with Digium for the Asterisk/Skype bridge. As Simon says:

In one move, we have illustrated the risk of a hybrid open source model, the danger of dependency on a proprietary system, a proof that Microsoft still can’t be trusted with open source and an impetus to open source innovation. All in one announcement.

Amusing. via A Liberating Betrayal? – Simon Says….

Is Google Docs the weakest link in Chromebook?

Interesting thoughts on what Google should do to take over Windows with its Chromebook. I don’t agree with all of it, especially I don’t think that Google Docs should necessarily get all the features of MS Word (including the unnecessary ones) in order to succeed, but definitely worth reading.

So when Google brags about the advantages of Chromebooks, I’m completely unimpressed because they are more than wiped out by the enormous sacrifices in basic compatibility and productivity that most people would have to make in order to move off Windows. The most fundamental problem is Google Docs.

There’s no way to put this politely: As a replacement for Microsoft Office, Google Docs stinks. Its word processor is adequate but limited, its spreadsheet is rudimentary, and its presentation program is so awkward and inflexible that it makes me want to throw something.

via Mobile Opportunity: Can Google’s Chromebook Break Windows?.

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.

Why I wish I could reject your email attachment

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today launched a campaign calling on all computer users to start politely rejecting email attachments sent in secret and proprietary formats: for freedom and the good of the web!  I believe that open standards are the best form to convey information and I think that attachments contribute to spread proprietary formats.

Unfortunately I think that this campaign cannot be joined by mobile phone users because it’s damaging them. None of the mobile operating systems I have stumbled upon offers support for OO.org. Maybe on Android there is a way to read attached ODF files, but through Google Docs (support of Impress file format is missing, though). ODF support on BlackBerry was announced but I couldn’t find mention on their website. I think Meego (formerly known as Maemo) has native support for ODF, but very few people use it. Not sure about other OSes. A search for OpenOffice.org/ODF on Nokia Ovi Store produced no result. That alone excludes 40% of European mobile phone users (millions of people, including me) from joining this campaign. I wish I could join this campaign, but for me is still impossible to view an .odt or .opd on the move, so I prefer to receive a .doc or .ppt that I can use on my OpenOffice.org desktop and also look at it on my phone.

Mobile users still have too little freedom to reject proprietary formats. For Document Freedom Day I would like to add a new item to the FSF’s list of priorities: support for ODF on mobile operating systems, from Android to Symbian to others.

via Why I’m rejecting your email attachment — Free Software Foundation.

Skype open source. Not!

Skype open source? Reading the full announcement on Skype blog:

[…]Having an open source UI will help us […]

So, it’s not Skype being open sourced, but it’s only the UI. The full sentence should be:

Having an open source UI will help us further our [Skype’s] plans to monopolize the Voice Over IP market with a proprietary and secret protocol that nobody can interoperate with. [Evil laugh]

I wish Google released a fully free and open source Gtalk, server included.

The cost of monopoly in the cloud

Reading of the latest cyber attacks against South Korea and USA digital systems, I remembered a rather old post from Gen Kanai @Mozilla, the cost of a monoculture. It’s about monopoly, government decisions and security in the cloud.

[South Korea] is also a unique monoculture where 99.9% of all the computer users are on Microsoft Windows.

The post tells what is happening in the country since the South Korean government decided that the whole digital infrastructure of the nation would have to depend on non standard technology and ended up with only one IT supplier. That was a really bad choice that may have made the whole country vulnerable to become a base for large scale cyber attacks.

Whether or not South Korean computers will be destroyed today (it seems that they are), the point that should be clear is that the ‘cloud’ is not a virtual environment, but it’s part of everybody’s life. Government decisions on technical issues have tremendous impact and real open standards should be mandated. With so many more mobile phones than computers, the mobile cloud must have its own standards in order to avoid monopoly and the cost associated with it. If you’re interested in the discussion about mobile cloud come to the free BoF session at OSCON2009.

via Mozilla in Asia » Blog Archive » the cost of monoculture.

Google plans to own you. More.

Finally Google revealed its plans to enter the operating system market. The first thing that comes to mind are chairs flying in Microsoft offices 🙂 The other thing comes from this statement:

“All Web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite Web technologies,” the company said.

It means cloud computing, the kind that makes desktop computers a dumb terminal. Since Google OS will target highly portable devices like netbooks, the issues of mobile cloud computing gain importance. I hope you’ll join the birds of a feather session at OSCON I’m coordinating to discuss what the free software movement can bring to mobile cloud computing.

via Google Plans a PC Operating System – NYTimes.com.

I want my health data with me

The debate on health records data is starting also in US with the new federal government plan to spend $19 billion to spur the use of computerized patient records.

In Milan, where I live, the regional health system requires me to carry around a digital ID card that allows for doctors and farmacists identify me. Until now I refused to activate it though, because I don’t trust digital technology and engineers enough.  I’m not comfortable with the system. Yesterday I learned that I have to activate that card now and all my health records will be stored on a remote super-secure system. The complex security will make sure that only the relevant data will be showed to the appropriate actors, from the farmacist to the specialist doctor.

What concerns me is that all the data will be stored in the same place and only some software logic will be in charge of filtering who can see what and when. That’s scary. I prefer having to carry around my past exams when I walk from doctor to doctor. Why are we being forced to surrender all our health data this way? Wouldn’t it be better if they agreed on a set of standard digital formats and gave all the details to me, to carry on an encrypted memory stick (for example)?  I will resist until I can.

Liberating the cloud one block at the time

simpson-cloudThe issue is how to bring the values of free software community to the cloud. According to reports from Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE), Bradley Kuhn‘s speech has addressed the issue.’  I hope he will include it in the next episodes of the Software Freedom Law Show, the interesting podcasts he runs with SFLC counsel Karen Sandler.

The problems of the cloud range from data ownership and portability to service interoperability and ultimately to software freedom. There is no simple solution, but building blocks to build a liberated cloud are available. Bradley mentioned Laconi.cat in his speech, for its federate microblogging service. I add Funambol to the pile because I believe it brings freedom to the other (often forgotten) cloud: the cell phone networks. With Funambol you own your data and you can take them with you, when you change operator or when you change device.’  I like the MobileWe marketing pitch for Funambol: freedom is a ‘we’ issue, not just a ‘me’. You can’t be free if you’re allowed to do what you want only in a limited space, like you are now if you buy the Pear meCell from DudeMobile. It’s like saying that a lion in a zoo is free, because he can move around as he wants … within the boundaries of the cage. A society made of non-free ‘me’ makes a non-free society. WE have to be free for the MEs to be free, too.