Eben Moglen’s Freedom in the Cloud Talk

I watched Eben’s speech but now I can quote it too thanks to the transcript done by the friends at Software Freedom Law Center. Talking about the problems of the cloud services, Eben hits Facebook hard with his rhetoric:

The human race has susceptibility to harm but Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record. He has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age. Because he harnessed Friday night, that is, ‘Everybody needs to to get laid,’ and turned into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality and he has to remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal, namely ‘I will give you free web-hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time’. And it works.  How could that have happened? There was no architectural reason. Facebook is the web with, ‘I keep all the logs, how do you feel about that.’ It’s a terrarium for what it feels like to live in a Panopticon built out of web parts. And it shouldn’t be allowed. That’s a very poor way to deliver those services. They are grossly overpriced at ‘spying all the time’, they are not technically innovative. They depend on an architecture subject to misuse and the business model that supports them is misuse. There isn’t any other business model for them. This is bad. I’m not suggesting it should be illegal. It should be obsolete. We’re technologists we should fix it.

As Nicole says, Facebook is Internet for the lazy people that don’t know or want to setup a blog on their own and learn how to use search, RSS or even email. And there are many of those.

So what do we need? We need a really good web server that you can put in your pocket and plug in any place. It shouldn’t be any larger than the charger for your cellphone. You should be able to plug it into any power jack in the world or sync it up with any wi-fi router that happens to be in this neighborhood […]
This is stuff we’ve got. We need to put it together … I’m not talking about stuff that’s hard for us. We need to make a free software distribution guys.[…]
Great social networking, updates automatically, software so strong you couldn’t knock it over if you kicked it, and you know what, you get ‘no spying’ for free. We can do that …

A small, personal, portable device, connected to the Internet with a simple and easy way to receive updates via a push mechanism and sync data between different sources. Something similar to what Funambol’s CEO said in Five Reasons To Care About Mobile Cloud Computing and I sketched earlier thoughts about the same topic. We’re facing interesting and busy times ahead.

Read there rest of Highlights of Eben Moglen’s Freedom in the Cloud Talk – Software Freedom Law Center.

What Symbian is risking by freeing its code

I honestly cannot understand the fear of forks that is spreading within the Symbian community. Since Symbian Foundation released the full source code of the operating system under the Eclipse Public License I’ve read few comments like the following:

I sincerely hope that we don’t see various manufacturers forking the code, and thus creating a veritable zoo of Symbian variants.

But then I ask: what can be worse than the current variants of proprietary Symbian? Even Nokia uses at least three Symbian versions, largely incompatible between each other.  Proprietary Symbian is a nightmare for developers, and I cannot see anything in the free software Symbian that can make things worse. The only risk I see for Symbian is to be successful at this point and win the hearts of the developers. What do you think?

via The risk of opening Symbian – All About Symbian Feature.

Choose a good license and manage well the community

Some of the things that Mike Tienman said in this interview with InternetNews.com I could have said myself.

I have come to believe that a license alone is neither a secret to success nor an absolution of sin.

Exactly: choosing a free license is a moral choice but that alone won’t secure neither commercial success nor any other success of the project.

“It’s a lot easier to bring tools to the community than it is to bring community to the tools,” Tiemann said. “I think that the importance of community cannot be overestimated.”

How can I agree more? My job as community manager is to facilitate the community on the path to such tools.

“I do believe that licensing is a key component that underpins a successful community effort,” Tiemann said. “The license, in a sense, dictates how the community can or should be expected to behave.”

Basically, you need to choose a free software license and to manage the community in order to enable success.  Do you see why I could have said all this myself?

via LinuxPlanet – Interviews – What Matters to Open Source: Licensing or Community? – More to FOSS Than Licenses.

How To Mix Agile And Software Developed By A Community

Back from Italian Agile Day where Stefano Fornari of Funambol with Marco Abis of Sourcesense animated a debate about mixing Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) and Agile development methods. I used to think that there was no issue because, after all, free software is a way to release software and it’s not a development method like many still think. Strictly speaking, what makes software free and open source is its license, not how it’s developed. But a lot of FLOSS is indeed developed in similar ways, with distributed teams, volunteer based contributions, merithocracy based leadership and so on. Some of these traits make FLOSS and Agile difficult to mix.

At Funambol we love Agile, me included, and we love to try new things so we proposed an experiment mixing Agile methods with community based development into a new Funambol Code Sniper program. The slideshow below summarizes the basis of this experiment based on the assumption that the community is the Product Owner of the new software.  The community will have to define the user stories and also to define when they’re DONE.

There are still a few grey areas, the biggest being how to distribute rewarding to contributors. I think they should be proportionate to the efforts put into the project. Even if it is possible to evaluate code contributions proportionally to story points (or hours/weeks), code is only a part of software development. Bug reporting, quality assurance, feedback and even writing user stories is important as well: how to evaluate these other kind of contributions? What do you think?

Perché ristabilire il senso di comunità porta al successo

Ho tenuto oggi una lezione di tre ore al Social Media Lab dello IULM dal titolo Etica della società digitale, ovvero perché ristabilire il senso di comunità porta al successo. Oggi ho avuto la conferma che il software libero ormai non è un concetto astratto. Praticamente tutti gli studenti (delle facoltà di Lingue, Turismo, Marketing e Comunicazione) usano regolarmente Firefox, conoscono OpenOffice.org, sanno che WordPress è software libero. Quindi, diversamente da qualche anno fa, non occorre più convincere nessuno della bontà del software libero o della sua fattibilità, della sua sostenibilità economica. Oggi penso di aver fatto bene a concentrarmi sullo spiegare perché il software libero è un elemento fondamentale nella società digitale.

Durante la prima ora ho spiegato i fondamentali e la storia del software libero. Per portare i principi di Stallman all’atto pratico ho usato le metafore di Lessig illustrate in Code is law.  La prima parte della lezione si conclude quindi con l’affermazione che nell’attuale era dell’informazione e per una società digitale libera il potere del codice software va bilanciato con la responsabilità morale del programmatore, ovvero con le quattro libertà di Stallman.

La seconda parte invece mi è servita a dimostrare che essere etici non vuol dire fare beneficenza e rimanere poveri. Ho usato due tipi di esempi, in negativo e in positivo. Gli esempi negativi sono i comportamenti di aziende o interi gruppi che, perdendo la bussola etica e perdendo il senso di appartenenza ad una comunità hanno portato alla recessione. Gli esempi positivi sono quelli di aziende che hanno mantenuto invece un forte senso di comunità e continuano a mietere successi. Non ho potuto fare a meno di citare Funambol in questo caso: adoro il principio Don’t upsell to your community. A chi si stupisce perché ho messo Google tra i buoni rispondo che secondo me Big G finora ha dimostrato un forte senso di responsabilità; ad esempio, qualcuno vede Facebook partecipare a qualcosa tipo dataportability? Quindi, ricapitolando, se il software libero è il modo per tenere una solida etica nella società digitale e mantenere il senso di comunità, e le aziende che hanno alti standard morali e forte senso di comunità solido hanno successo, allora il software libero è un pezzo importante per il successo.

Nella terza ora abbiamo discusso insieme questo caso di studio da HBR, un’azienda che deve decidere se e come rilasciare il suo programma con una licenza libera. La discussione è stata bellissima con spunti davvero intelligenti da parte della classe.

Le slide sono qui sotto. Mi sono divertito tantissimo e non vedo l’ora di poter ripetere questa lezione da un’altra parte: accetto inviti 🙂

Stallman comments on CodePlex Foundation

We’ll have to judge the new foundation by its actions, but as a start there are no promising signs that this will contribute in any way to the free software movement. Instead, the foundation seems designed to increase the amount of software that, although distributed with licenses that respect formally the four freedoms (call it open source or free software, it’s the same in this case), will depend on Microsoft non-free platforms. Will this be a new version of the ‘java trap‘?

However good or bad the CodePlex Foundation’s actions, we must not accept them as an excuse for Microsoft’s acts of aggression against our community. From its recent attempt to sell patents to proxy trolls who could then do dirty work against GNU/Linux to its longstanding promotion of Digital Restrictions Management, Microsoft continues to act to harm us. We would be fools indeed to let anything distract us from that.

via Lest CodePlex perplex – Free Software Foundation.

Mobile Cloud Computing, Part II: Where do We go From Here?

Mobile cloud is going to be big, according to a study published by ABI research. And they’re not the only ones to say so.

In this second part of my thoughts about mobile cloud — which I hope we can all talk about at OSCON — I’ll try to find answers to this question: as a developer commited to free-as-in-freedom software, what would you need to do to get started?

In this who’s who in mobile open source, Funambol and Volantis are shown as the only companies offering service delivery platforms, demonstrating that there are many ways to develop free software applications but only a few solutions to build open mobile services with.

Linux support packages Wind River (also one of the most prominent integrators for mobile Linux stacks), MontaVista
Operating systems for feature phones: Purple Labs; for smartphones: Azingo, Access Linux Platform, A la Mobile, OpenMoko; for MIDs: Intel Moblin, Ubuntu Mobile. Also OKL4 is virtualisation (hypervisor) software for mobile phones.
Middleware GNOME’s GTK+ and related projects (e.g. D-Bus, Gstreamer), the graphics subsystem of Nokia’s Qt and the db4o database engine.
Application environments Google’s Android, Nokia’s Maemo, Nokia’s Qt, Eclipse eRCP, Sun’s Java phone ME, Motorola’s Java MIDP3, AOL’s Open Mobile Platform and Nokia’s Web Runtime
Browsers Apple’s WebKit (on the verge of becoming a de facto standard for web-centric service delivery) and Firefox Mobile
Service deliv. platforms Funambol (consumer email sync), Volantis (content adaptation)
Development tools Eclipse Foundation (manages the Eclipse IDE, used as the basis for Nokia’s Carbide, Wind River tools and many others). Plus RhoMobile – a new set of open source developer tools for creating connected enterprise apps on smartphones.
Industry initiatives Symbian Foundation (EPL license), Open Handset Alliance (APL2 license), LiMo Foundation (open source as it builds on top of Linux), GNOME Mobile and Embedded (LGPL-licensed GTK+ and related software)

On the other hand, proprietary mobile services are blossoming everywhere. Funambol recently listed and reviewed 11 mobile cloud sync services, from Apple MobileMe to Vodafone Zyb.

A minimum requirement are interoperable services implementing open standards, because users’ data must be preserved at all costs. Proprietary walled gardens create small monopolies that sometimes grow big and take away personal data from the users. Two recent cases demonstrated that users of mobile cloud services are exposed to serious problems: one with Amazon Kindle and the other with Palm Pre. Both are mobile devices, both rely on mobile cloud services for most of their usefulness. Kindle users that buy electronic books are realizing that they don’t end up owning anything and Amazon can too easily prevent users from enjoying the books they’ve bought.  The other disturbing news story reports that Palm Pre owners cannot access the music that they bought and stored in Apple’s iTunes: Apple still wants to own the music it sold its users and keep their data hostage.  I think these are just a visible signal of  proprietary services battling to own the users’ data.  If Kindle and iTunes used interoperable and open standards, which could be safely implemented in free/libre open source software, their users would not face much of these problems.

The pure mobile service frameworks available for freedom conscious developers are Funambol, which offers push notification, synchronization and device management, and Volantis, which offers content adaptation to mobile browsers. Rhomobile is another options, a mix between a development tool and a service delivery platform. Funambol is fully based on the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) open standards Data Synchronization and Device Management, therefore services built with Funambol can easily respect users’ rights. The server aspect is complemented by the Java and C++ SDKs to develop native mobile applications for the devices. Rhomobile is based on Ruby and can be used to develop applications that act as being native but use the local web browser.

While Funambol and Rhomobile in theory can be used to develop free as in freedom mobile cloud services, there is still one big issue to solve: locked down devices. Network operators don’t want the users to be too free so almost all of them prevent users to run applications that are not digitally signed. RIM, Apple and to some extent also Symbian devices are all locked down, which renders users’ freedom in the mobile cloud a balancing act: on one hand a developer needs to obey the rules dictated by network operators and device manufacturers; on the other hand the same developer needs to find ways to deliver freedom to the users. In Funambol’s case, for example, the official iPhone client can only sync contacts because the official Apple SDK only allows that. Nonetheless, Funambol client for iPhone can sync also calendar accessing directly the sqlite database, but such version cannot run on the device unless it is unlocked (breaking Apple’s warranty).

This is only scratches the surface of the mobile cloud services for the freedom-concerned developers and users.  There are further issues to talk about, including:

  • device management,
  • how to push software updates to the devices,
  • security of data (since people tend to lose their phones),
  • how to keep data secure while transfering.

The free software movement should take the lead to address and solve these issues. I hope we can spark the discussion at OSCON. I’ll be available all days ping me any time. Follow me on identi.ca or twitter.

Thoughts on mobile cloud computing

Mobile cloud computing represents an opportunity for the free/libre open source software movement that is just as big and radical as cloud computing, maybe even moreso. This is part 1 of a post about it, part 2 will follow shortly.

By the end of 2009, 4 billion people will use mobile phones. By 2013, that number is projected to grow to 6 billion. That is many times the number of personal computer users. By definition, mobile phones that access the internet are performing mobile cloud computing: handsets need to borrow storage and computing power from the cloud because of their limited resources.

Just as Free/Libre Open Source Software played a major role in the growth of the Internet and cloud computing, sparking issues about openness and freedom, the Free Software movement has the potential to provide a similar yet different impact on mobile cloud computing.

To mitigate the power of the cloud computing vendors and reduce the risk of lock-in the free/libre software community and proprietary vendors are discussing policies and proposing standards. Various communities, from Open Cloud Manifesto to Autonomo.us think-tank, are searching ways to guarantee interoperability, security, privacy for users of the cloud services.

Mobile cloud services have similar issues, although the expected impact on the users is different. While a desktop user has the option to keep pictures in the cloud, on services like Flickr or use local storage, mobile user’s choice is limited by the device form factor.  Even if mobile devices are not exactly ‘dumb’ terminals, but they’re not ‘super-smart’ either. Usually the applications are resident on the device, but not all of the user’s data or the computing power can fit in there.  Therefore mobile cloud servicese ‘lend’ computing power to the handset when it connects to the service, which then can continue working ‘disconnected’. For example, a phone can use extra storage from the cloud for multimedia files, like pics or music. The mobile cloud service can then push to the device a special music playlist for a running workout when it’s needed.

Mobile cloud services are largely dominated by vendor specific walled gardens, and debate is not as intense as the numbers of cell phone users would suggest. Probably this is due to the fact that not only Free Software powered mobile phones are not easy to find, but also installing new software on phones was not an option for the mass market until recently. Now, after iPhone and with more and more ‘application stores’ emerging, the issue of mobile users’ freedom is showing up: billions of new handset users have the issue of freedom for the software on the device and freedom in the mobile cloud.

The Free Software community has to step in the mobile cloud debate or a large piece of digital citizens will not be able to enjoy the benefits that free software has brought to larger computer users.  The mobile cloud is pretty much an open territory where many vendors are already fighting to lock-in their users.

The birds of a feather session at OSCON is devoted to the idea of “open mobile” cloud computing. Some of the questions that we can discuss include:

  • What is open mobile cloud computing and what does it mean?
  • What components, solutions, technology, ecosystem and standards are involved?
  • What provisions are needed to safeguard everyone’s rights?
  • What tools are already available to build free as in freedom mobile cloud services?

If you would like to participate in this birds of a feather session @OSCON or this discussion, please contact me.

The iPhone killer existed before the iPhone

And Nokia didn’t know about it. The Linux-based Maemo platform had all the potential to radically change the cell phone landscape long before Apple came out with the iPhone. But Nokia preferred to be ultra-conservative and marketed the Internet Tablet devices such as the Nokia N810 as a toy for geeks.

Maybe this strategy has paid off since now Nokia is hiring those geeks to work on the Maemo software platform. This is a good sign for the free software movement because Nokia is flexing its muscles in the business arena pushing both its free/open source platforms: QT/GTK+ Maemo and the upcoming open sourced Symbian.

Way to go Nokia. Only be fast because I need a new phone and I have decided to buy one that comes with freedom attached, no strings.

Are you a developer? Apply here: Nokia – Apply Your Imagination.