links for 2009-01-28

  • Tim Berners Lee on software patents: "the Supreme Court actually declined to extend patent protection to software algorithms, preferring to leave the matter to congress. In this feature, we'll take a close look at the Supreme Court's classic trio of software patent decisions. We'll explore what the Supreme Court originally said about the patentability of software, how the court distinguished between software and non-software patents, and what the consequences would be if lower courts more aggressively applied the limits on software patents that the Supreme Court articulated a generation ago."

Cost saving is the wrong argument, but it may work

Scott Mc Nealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has been asked by the new Obama administration to prepare a paper about ‘open source’. From what I read on the BBC report, though, he is using a tired losing proposition:

The secret to a more secure and cost effective government is through open source technologies and products.

To me statements like these look too much like a “worn-out dogma” that open source is gratis, costs less, is more secure.’  These arguments have been demolished by plenty of evidence in real life and by academic research. They can easily sink under the fires of the Microsoft, Adobe, IBM and Oracle of the world.

Probably there is a remote chance that the winds of change blowing in Obama’s sails will make Mc Nealy’s and OSI’s arguments float. What do you think?

via BBC NEWS | Technology | Calls for open source government.

Architecture, Politics, Internet and Open Standards

I still have Obama’s inauguration’s speech in my mind, so full of passion and hope. It’s such a powerful word, hope.’  What most impressed me was his call to politicians to stop bickering and get to work to reform politics.’  This morning I read a post of Mitch Kapor, about the interconnection between politics and architecture. This paragraph connected in my mind Obama’s speech and the Moonlight/Silverlight fiasco:

The decentralized architecture of the Internet minimizes the role of central authorities and maximizes the ability of any participant to offer or receive any information or service and to develop new capabilities and services. What keeps the Internet from descending into chaos and anarchy is not centralized authority, but that its activities, while decentralized, are highly coordinated through adherence to collectively developed open standards.

Emphasis added. So, just as to have a democracy you need a system architecture that is accountable and transparent, to have a democratic Internet you need to keep its decentralized architecture based on open standards.

Moonlight/Silverlight and Flash are neither open nor standards: they are tools developed by corporations to take and keep control of the Internet.’  They are gates put in place to discriminate who, when and how we, the citizens, can access the digital archives of knowledge. They are like books written in obscure languages that can be translated only by holy scribes. They’re bad for Internet, they hurt freedom of the citizens.

We need to refuse Moonlight/Silverlight and Flash, we need to reclaim our right to read the books on our own. Because we can! The alternatives are just there, ready to use, developed collectively by the same people that made the Internet, the W3C. The new HTML5 standard is being held back by, quoting Obama’s inauguration speech, “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” I wish one day we can too proclaim an end to these and have an Internet powered only by real Open Standards.

Obama Inauguration available also on Moonlight

So, in the end, the Mono hackers have worked overnight to make it possible to watch the official Obama inauguration on Moonlight, the free software implementation of Microsoft’s response to Adobe Flash. Good or bad, I don’t really know. I pity the hacker that had to work overnight to overcome the bad choice of the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) to use Microsoft’s proprietary tools.

What is really annoying though is this sentence from Ars report of the night of Novell’s employees:

Monday night’s collaborative effort by Microsoft and Novell on defies the assessments of these critics and provides some compelling evidence of the need for an open source Silverlight implementation.

No, dude, that’s not what we need. We need HTML5, we need an open standard to handle multimedia on the web. We don’t need yet another poor’s man implementation of a proprietary non-standard that copies other proprietary non-standards like Adobe Flash. Cloning Silverlight may make sense only for Novell, but for anybody else it’s a waste of time. Hacker’s energy is better spent on GNASH, the free software Flash implementation because at least that’s the dominant player and on Firefox 3.1. And advocacy energy should go on finalizing the specs of HTML5, removing all patent traps. Get it right.

Another brick falls on the US patent system

It looks like the US patent system, that the free software movement has been fighting for the past 25 years, is dying.

First academia started questioning its usefulness (back in 1958), then the conservative cultural circles at WSJ.’  In the recent Blisky case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit put the software patents on shaky ground.

IBM threw the last, heaviest brick on the patent system announcing that it will increase by 50% the number of inventions that it releases in the public domain, instead of patenting them. The press release estimates a total of about 3,000 inventions by IBM during 2009. Even more interesting:

its planned increase in publishing inventions will focus on those technology areas that will increase the build out of a new, smarter infrastructure.

which sounds like that to enable innovation you need to get rid of patents. Another interesting piece of IBM’s press release:

Publication of technological information is one means to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” the phrase in the U.S. Constitution giving the Congress the power to enact patent laws. Publication protects inventors from allegations of infringement by placing the intellectual property into the body of prior art. Publications also improve patent quality, since they can be cited by patent offices in limiting the scope of patent applications. Publication also helps spur follow-on innovation that ensures dynamic business growth.

Isn’t this what have we’ve been saying for the past 20 years?

IBM full press release

Nokia and the L of smart freedom

The good news today is that Nokia relicensed the Qt (pr: cute) libraries under the GNU Lesser General Public License, demonstrating that the mobile ecosystem is where things happen. The GNU Lesser GPL is a license that allows non-free and free software to co-exist. Yes, with the LGPL the FSF admits that non-free software exists. Confused/surprised? You shouldn’t be: the FSF and Stallman are much less of a fundamentalist than they are painted by the FUD-drones. The LGPL is a strategic tool to allow free software developers to help each other: when a free library doesn’t offer any particular advantages over alternative non-free libraries, then it makes sense to use the Lesser GPL for it, instead of the GPL. Using the LGPL library will give a cost saving opportunity to proprietary software developers, while free software developers will get code contributions and a wider user base.’  The L stands for “smart freedom”.

Interesting to notice that this is the second license change for the project: from the Q Public License to the GNU GPL. Now they’re under the Lesser GPL, with a more transparent development model, a git repository and, wow, contributors will keep the copyright of their code (no contributors agreement to sign). Nokia seems very aggressive, and they’re right. With Android in town they need to fight with all the weapons they have.

I expect now a tougher competition between the two major toolkits, Qt and GTK+, with a polarization of the battle field. On the Qt side there is Nokia, on the GTK+ side there is Sun, Novell, RedHat, HP and all mobile’  Linux platforms. Nokia is also supporting GTK+ for its Maemo Internet Tablets, but I guess they’ll pull the plug and switch to Qt in a few months.

Does it still make sense to push the development of the somewhat inferior LGPL GTK+ when you can switch to LGPL Qt? We’ll have to wait and see. What is sure is that free software is definitely here to stay and play a major role in the mobile arena (and I’m betting that Capo wins his bet –Microsoft will offer Windows Mobile as free software).

(via ArsTechnica)

DRM means: pay it again, Sam

While I cheered the new iTunes Plus, introducing songs without DRM I wasn’t expecting that Apple would charge its users again the the musing they have already bought. It’s incredibly bad for the customers and it shows once again why DRM is bad for society. From iTunes Plus: a primer:

As Apple goes all iTunes Plus by its self-imposed end-of-Q1 2009 deadline you’ll be able to upgrade your previously purchased iTunes songs for $0.30 video upgrades are $0.60 and albums for 30% of the album price. The gotcha is in the upgrade process. You cannot choose which songs, music videos or albums to upgrade individually. You must upgrade all music at once by using the Buy button

It’s the same old song: Pay it again, Sam.