Ubuntu is not going to give me a decent desktop OS anymore

I’ve always been an Ubuntu fan for the past 10 years since the distribution came out with the promise of a usable deskto, with a promise of openness, regular releases, great integration between different and separated projects, great vision for world dominance. I loved all of that and I loved the execution, including the latest evolution. I love HUD and how it uses screen real estate, allows me to be more effective at commanding window-based application without having to touch the mouse. I love most of Unity, the dash and the lenses although I don’t use most of it.

Lately I’ve gone from concerned fan to very sad: I’m considering switching to another distribution. What I don’t really like is the lack of investments from Canonical on productivity tools that we live for: an email client and a calendar client. I already ranted about the sad state of free software collaboration tools and unfortunately Canonical decided to invest time and energy in supporting not a desktop for productivity but as a gaming platform, a cloud operating system and a mobile system. Canonical is devoting its engineers to develop things I really don’t care about. All I wanted was a good, solid desktop operating system for my daily computing needs: email, calendar, web browsing, audio/video collaboration tools and a decent way to exchange ‘office’ documents with peopls stuck in 1998 way of producing content. Sadly Ubuntu is not going to provide that in the near future, it even backed out from offering the most basic tools like an email client and a calendar client.

When I look at the alternatives though, I am even more sad and want to cry. GNOME seems to be stupidly following all the things that Apple does, including the obvious mistakes like the broken behavior of ALT-TAB (I expect GNOME developers to invert the way we scroll pages any time now, because Apple did that with absolutely no logical reason). GNOME also lacks a modern email client, addressbook and calendar client, with Evolution being stuck in 1998. And spare me to mention KDE: great technology, just no decent UI for it.

I’m sure Ubuntu will look great in a couple of years on TVs, phones, clouds but all I wanted was my desktop and I fear that for the next couple of years I’ll be stuck with a broken one, being it Ubuntu or Fedora or something else.

The good news is Google+ and there is the bad news too

Google seems to have done it right this time: Google+ looks like a credible implementation of a social strategy. Whatever that means, of course. Compared to the other half baked recent initiatives like Buzz or Wave, Google+ seems to have a much wider scope, it’s not just another product: it’s a foundation where all other Google services and products can build upon. Adding a social layer to search, Picasa, Gmail, Android and all other Google things was the best way for Google to leverage its own social graph and fulfill its mission to organize information in the world.

The bad news first: I said before that Facebook is the anti-internet. Facebook is just one website for 600 million people, instead of being 600 million websites of people. Google+  seem to have the same issue, it has the same approach: give us all of your information, we’ll store it in our website, mine all your data and we’ll serve you better advertising. Their business model is the same: tell us who you like, who your friends are, where you like to go to party and who you meet with and [Google|Facebook] and we will serve you to advertisers. That’s their business model and they don’t have the luxury of a different one. The risks for privacy are the same, you get to be better spied and censored in case you say something that the government doesn’t like.

Where is the good news? The good news is that Google+ can demonstrate to all the users that they don’t have to put all their data in Facebook in order to get valuable information. The success of Google+ will show that there are alternatives and that change is a good thing. This paves the way to other changes and innovation, including to the FreedomBox. Having alternatives is good, they bring choice and they help breaking the habits. One more reason to push on the accelerators and build the FreedomBox.

Update: XKCD talks about Google+ too.

Freedom of press is challenged in Italy

Italian blogger Carlo Ruta has been sentenced for producing an illegal editorial product on appeal by an Italian court. For the first time, remote fears have become a reality: you can be sentenced for stating your opinions online. Here we have the results of the laws passed slowly over 15 years that has eroded freedom of speech in Italy.

According to a law passed in 2007, every blog or website in Italy is to be considered a publication and undergo the same obligations of printed newspapers and magazines. This law allowed for Ruta’s blog ‘Accade in Sicilia’ to fall under an anti-fascist law passed in 1948 that forbids publications that are not registered by the national Communications Authority.

Ruta’s blog is offline since 2004 but accessible on Webarchive.org: it contains information and results of his research about recent history of Sicily, including the homicide of journalist Giovanni Spampinato.

Italian newspaper La Stampa has a brief interview with Ruta where he says he believe he may have touched some nerves with his blog. It’s a sad day for me.

Update: I have discovered that Accade in Sicilia is not the only case. ChiusiNews was also closed, not by a court order but by the intimidation of the powerful Journalist’s Guild. Thanks to Arturo di Corinto for the headsup.

How I went from architecture to free/libre software

When I tell people that I studied as an architect I always get a question: how did you end up in technology and why do you advocate Free Software/Open Source if you studied brick-and-mortar? The answer I usually give is summarized in the incipit of the book The Architecture of Open Source Applications

Architects look at thousands of buildings during their training, and study critiques of those buildings written by masters. In contrast, most software developers only ever get to know a handful of large programs well—usually programs they wrote themselves—and never study the great programs of history. As a result, they repeat one another’s mistakes rather than building on one another’s successes.

Free Software with its freedom 1, the freedom to study the code and adapt it to your needs, is the only way software architectures can evolve. It took hundreds of years to go from building the pyramids to the skyscrapers and all thanks to the freedom to study how things are made. I believe that if we keep the same freedom we have in the world of atoms we’ll be able to continue building a better cyberspace.

Socialist party wants to ban Creative Commons Portugal in

Something is rotten in Portugal:

The Socialist Party will present this new proposal for approval in the next Government, no matter if they win the elections or not. In regards to Creative Commons, they support a vision where Creative Commons harm Culture, and in this law proposal they intend to turn them illegal.

The law proposal makes it impossible to alienate the rights that Creative Commons licenses were designed to give back to the users.

If you match this idiotic proposal with the strong push in Brasil to undo the progress made by Lula and his government with Creative Commons and Free Software you get a nasty picture of Portuguese speaking countries.

On Mind Booster Noori: Portugal’s biggest political party wants to turn Creative Commons Licenses illegal there are audio recordings and more details.

How is Google damaging consumers?

I kept this post as draft since I read Wired’s article about Google and their supposed dominant position. Today I read again about the new investigation of US Antitrust targeting bigG because it holds too much market share in online advertising and advertisers are getting upset.  I can’t understand why an antitrust agency is taking care of this. How is Google harming consumers? This seems to me a totally different case than the Microsoft antitrust judgement. With Microsoft, consumers were being harmed directly left with little to no choice to use their products in order to have ‘compatibility’. At that time, I think that antitrust bodies had a clear case: Microsoft dominance and abusive business practices were removing options to consumers.

With Google the case seems very different: advertisers are free to stop advertising on Google any time they want. Contrary to Microsoft, Google cannot leverage any network effect to keep Internet users (the ‘consumers’) to stop using Google for search. I can go and use Bing any time I want: Google search uses an open standard, it’s a freakin web site. The simplest thing Microsoft has to do in order to take 40% of Internet users’ search is to pay a sufficient amount of money to Mozilla, and voilà: all Firefox users will have Bing as default search engine.

Same thing with many other Googl services. If you don’t like Gmail anymore you can take all of its archive, contacts, and everything else and move it somewhere else: open standards (IMAP) at work again.

And, should Microsoft not want to pay Mozilla, Google’s search engine can start to suck  any time or more privacy issues may arise, and users will move to the next best one (didn’t we all move to Google from Altavista already?)

What am I failing to see in these new wave of antitrust complaints against Google?

The future of Free Software

Eben Moglen is helping Free Software to keep the promise of a free society. In his keynote speech at FOSDEM Moglen has laid out the foundation for the future of the Free Software movement: make sure that digital communication between people remains free.

Our freedom depends on reengineering the network to replace vulnerable, centralized services with alternatives which resist government control.

He identified the enemy (the data-mining industry, lead by corporation and governments around the world), gave the enemy a name and an easy target (Facebook) and he gave an action plan (the Freedom Box).

Freedom Box is the name we give to a free software system built to keep your communications free and private whether chatting with friends or protesting in the street.

I noted that he didn’t mention Twitter in his speech, and I think I know why. First of all Twitter has a good track of records when it comes to step up against government requests. What I believe is Moglen’s most clear reason to mention only Facebook is that he wants to give one target to the crowd, and a fat, easy one, too. Facebook must be the evil, much like Microsoft was the only big, fat target for all FSF’s propaganda (not Autodesk or or Adobe or Oracle or IBM).

It’s important to donate now on Kickstarter: Push the FreedomBox Foundation from 0 to 60 in 30 days. I hope that FSF and FSFE now donate to this project, too: I’d be really surprised if they don’t.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/721744279/push-the-freedombox-foundation-from-0-to-60-in-30/widget/card.html
PS If you want to read more here are some articles: NY Times, WSJ, BoingBoing, Slashdot, reddit, ZDNet, The New York Observer, New Europe, techPresident, LWN.

Apple and software freedom clashing again

Another app has to be removed from the Apple iTunes mobile App Store. This time, after GNU Go, it’s the iOS port of the popular free VLC Player because the terms of the GNU General Public License are incompatible with those of Apple’s store.

Difficult situation and I still think that the best way out is for FSF to sponsor a mobile app repository for free software applications. What would be better?

via How to avoid public GPL floggings on Apple’s App Store | ZDNet.

The carriers are ruining Android

Techcrunch author MG Siegler picked the wrong fight accusing Android of ‘not being open’. His rant rant is all about how the fact that Android is open source allows the carriers like Verizon and T-mobile to fill it up with crapware and basically crippling the user experience. The nuts of his argument though are in this paragraph:

The thought of a truly open mobile operating system is very appealing. The problem is that in practice, that’s just simply not the reality of the situation. Maybe if Google had their way, the system would be truly open. But they don’t. Sadly, they have to deal with a very big roadblock: the carriers.

Carriers have been crippling phones everywhere and independently from the OS. I think of my Nokia E71, for example. It came branded (not locked) by TIM (Italian operator), installed with a custom firmware containing software that wouldn’t even start. So bad was the situation that I had to change its serial number and lead Nokia to believe that it was an unbranded phone so that I could install the normal firmware and get regular updates.

I learned my lesson then: never ever buy branded/locked phones. But aren’t they more expensive that way? Yes! Unlocked phones cost a ton of money, and you know what? They should! When you go buy a laptop do you expect to pay less than $300? So why do you expect a Droid  phone to cost only $199? Don’t you expect that such low means strings attached? And the strings are crippleware, like the idiotic Navigator-thing that AT&T tried to make me pay for on the Palm Pre.

Come on, American friends, you should know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Android is (almost) free software but that doesn’t have anything to do with the stupid manoeuvres of the carriers. These are lame attempts to squeeze some pennies out of you while they wait for their friends in Washington to destroy net neutrality (with Google’s help).

Screw them, buy unlocked phones and refuse data+voice plans that tie to them for two years. Freedom comes at a very small price, all things considered.