Posts filed under ‘Open Source’

[Getting Rid of IP] Even Bad Guys Are Going ‘Open’

This appeared in Network World:

… According to this report from Seculert Research, the makers of Citadel, a variant of the Zeus Trojan are using open source models to hone their code and make the Trojan more dangerous.

Not only open source, but the Citadel creators are also deploying it from a SaaS model and using a CRM type of system with forums and message board to communicate with the consumers using the Trojan to commit criminal activity. You have to hand it to these guys, they are using cutting edge techniques to make their product better. Too bad they don’t put this much effort into a legitimate business, but then again they probably wouldn’t make as much money.

Those who have followed this blog over the years or who know me in person, know that I personally believe that freedom preserving software, otherwise known as "free software", or freedom-respecting software, otherwise known as "open source", should be the only type of applications used in government agencies, including taxpayer-funded schools. I believe that the advantages in terms of being able to see what the software actually does and to legally change it if desired are so important that it far outweighs "well this is what they are using in private industry" factor.

Likewise, I think that the "many eyes makes all bugs shallow" aspect of open source would really help in enhanced security environments. I do note that in order to partake of these advantages, said organizations need to have people who are can read and write computer code. That is probably not the case at this time, although I do know of a higher education institution whose technology instructors adopted Moodle in place of Blackboard, and actually contributed back code to the project.

I just find it funny that schoolkids are learning where to click on the "ribbon" toolbar to find a particular function in a particular proprietary office suite, knowledge that will be obsolete within a couple of years when software versions change. Yet, the bad guys have gotten past protecting their "supersekrit™ IP" and are using open source to build, improve, and develop their malware.

As Against Monopoly points out:

If you want to know what the world would be like without IP: look at the criminal world where they can’t easily sue each other for patent and/or copyright violation. Is there software innovation in that world? The virus producers are innovating faster than the anti-virus vendors.

Isn’t it funny how flimsy the arguments for government-enforced monopolies like patents and copyrights begin to fall apart when they are closely examined? I believe we need to make the case, loudly and publicly, that "intellectual property" hinders both innovation and the invention / creation of previously unknown products and services. We need to make the case to politicians, so that they will be less eager to pass the latest "kill the Internet to protect corporate IP" bill. We need to make our case to the public, via the Internet and the news media. And we need to make our case to the artists, writers, authors, composers, and performers that organizations like the RIAA and MPAA prey upon (all the while telling them that they’d make no money without the organizations and their copyright maximalism). We need to counter their claims that stronger copyright and patent enforcement increases the number of domestic jobs with anecdotes and studies that show the opposite.

A couple of recent posts on this topic: Responding to copyright maximalism, and the danger of corporations.

Tuesday, 2012-February-14 at 02:32

Discussing Diaspora’s Future

I have seen lots of discussion about the future of !Diaspora lately. Here is my first attempt to really weigh in. We need to distinguish between several things that are all called Diaspora. First of all, there is Diaspora the project (DProj), the Diaspora core development team (DCore), Diaspora the corporation (DStar), and DStar’s Diaspora pod, (JD). There are also several independently-operated pods, such as (DiaspO) and (DiaspE).

First of all, DProj, can really benefit from more contributors. Sadly, I cannot help. I messed around with Ruby for a while, realized that its soup of special characters with special meanings was not going to ever match my brain (like Perl, which has the same problem), and put it down quickly.

DProj is almost synonymous with DCore and DStar, as is usual in a cathedral-type of project. However, DStar is also distracted with the financial and administrative burden of operating JD. This, I think, is the chief problem that Diaspora (overall) faces. Even with a cathedral model, they could be very successful. But they’ll have to be very careful.

DStar must, absolutely must start to create a business model. They need to wake up and realize that centralizing around JD, a site that charges its users nothing and accepts no advertising, is suicidal. Likewise, owners of other Diaspora pods, including both DiaspO and DiaspE, should be thinking about their own business models.

Once you realize that hosting a zero-price site for yourself and a few friends and family is considerably different from hosting a zero-price site for tens or even hundreds of thousands of people you do not know, you will realize that all large Diaspora pods will need some kind of business model. Hosting costs money. Bandwidth costs money. Having someone to administer the site, to respond to issues and outages all day, every day costs money. By refusing to face this issue up front, JD may have seriously damaged the future of both DStar and DProj.

Diaspora, particularly the JD pod, has attracted a large number of people who cannot contribute code, cannot or will not contribute funds, and will not tolerate advertising on the site. Unless the JD pod finds a billionaire sponsor or forces the freeloaders to leave or change, that pod will continue to be a severe drain upon DStar, and to consume resources that DProj and DCore need.

I understand the founders wanted Diaspora to be more of a non-profit foundation, and I understand this. Putting DProj development in a NPO would be the best way to go, but pod-hosting (JD) is killing the project.

People are complaining about the instability of the JD pod, which seems to be down several times each day. As a user of that pod, but a non-participant in DProj itself, my estimation is that the influx of JD users is straining the already-tight finances and server administration resources of DStar.

What should be done about all of this? I am glad you asked.

Number one, DStar must put DProj into a non-profit organization funded primarily by DStar. That will free DProj to seek grants and sponsors. DCore needs to open up DProj a little, so that people who can grok Ruby are more willing to contribute code.

Number two, DStar must emphasize federation. People need to be encouraged to start new pods and to choose to join other pods instead of JD. In fact, I would encourage DProj and DCore to get in touch with the people trying to patch XMPP into the Diaspora codebase. Get in touch with Friendica’s Mike. Get in touch with the StatusNet, OStatus, and RStatus people. Work to make it possible for Diaspora pods to interfederate with OStatus-using federations, such as StatusNet and RStatus; make it possible to interfederate with Friendica using its Zot protocol; and to interfederate with XMPP-using federated social networks, such as Jappix. Many have argued that Diaspora lost its chance to ever become popular. I do not believe that displacing one or more of the big commercial socnets is or ever was on DStar’s agenda, but to the degree that Diaspora or any other federated socnet succeeds in attracting active and sustainable communities, they all benefit, and all the more if they can interfederate. Diaspora, the Zot-using networks (currently just Friendica), the OStatus-using networks (including Identica and other StatusNet instances, and RStatus, at least), and the XMPP-using networks together can form a network with no vulnerable central hub, no corporation or organization in control, and no way for patent and copyright trolls to buy government-sponsored tollbooths.

Number three, JD absolutely needs to immediately post a privacy policy, even if it is a work in progress. Privacy and users controlling their own data is part of Diaspora’s “USP” (unique selling point), as your introductory college marketing class will tell you about. Without a privacy policy and TOS (terms of service) policy on JD, many who would otherwise be willing to help out are avoiding not just JD, but all Diaspora pods.

Number four, DStar must take action to place JD on a sound financial footing. I see two ways to do this: (1) advertising, and (2) subscriptions. Most likely, both will be needed.

Analytics: Nearly every site uses some sort of analytics, if only to help with allocation of server resources and deploying anti-spam and anti-cracking defenses. I imagine that some idea of what features are used and in which sequence they get used is going to strongly influence which features get the most developer attention, also. JD should implement a solution like Piwik, until effective analytics can be integrated into the Diaspora software as a plugin. Without analytics, JD will have no way to know how to adjust the appearance and operation site to enable it to become profitable.

Advertising: Although Google’s adsense is said to be the more profitable ad network, there is absolutely no way that JD can use it. JD is going to have to build its own ad network (using OpenX or a similar application) or contract another ad network to service the site. However this is done, ads shown on JD need to respect its users’ privacy and the integrity of the Diaspora experience. This means no expanders, none of those popups when you roll over text, no “please view this ad while the page loads”, and positively no “you were discussing cats so we’ll show an ad for XYZ cat food”.

Subscriptions: Subscriptions are an excellent way to pay for some of the costs of operation. Subscription-only would chase away those who cannot afford it, or those who object to paid-only sites. Subscriptions as a “see fewer ads, subscribe” would be the best option.

I would like to encourage DStar to get in touch with Automattic, which is thriving with a similar business and funding model to the one which the various Diaspora entities will need to adopt in order to keep themselves going.

Number five, the various entities mentioned above that are individually and collectively known as ‘Diaspora’ need to be transparent. We know that the developers need to eat, drink, commute, sleep, and do all the other things that any other human needs to do. We know that DStar and any other legal entities need to have a space they operate out of. We know that operating high-traffic servers is expensive. We also know that no one involved in Diaspora is getting rich or trying to put something over on us.

So I would hope that DStar and all other legal entities, along with JD and other major pods, will make it a point to be transparent about what their needs are and what resources are available. Perhaps in doing so, people like me, who really want to see them succeed in producing a viable alternative to centralized networks, will find ways to help them do so.

Please be aware that this is not meant in any way to trash-talk anyone involved in Diaspora. It is meant to spur others to think about the financial needs of developing code full-time and of running large, resource-intensive pods, and to persuade them to be supportive of the people behind Diaspora as JD and other large pods move to find the revenues they need to continue operating.


Tuesday, 2012-January-03 at 05:55 6 comments

Thinking About Independence Day


I am in mid-America right on Independence Day. Some Californians would think negatively about this. I find that Kansas and its nearby states are full of people who are much like the people in LoCal (both areas lack the arrogant self-righteousness that is often found in “coasties” and especially in NorCal residents). In either place, people are not aware of the extent to which corporations have gained control over our lives and our political processes. Further, they lack awareness of just how important copyrights, patents, and proprietary software are to the corporate puppetmasters who are rapidly enslaving us.

Let me make it clear. The new corporate slave-masters are not concerned about your sex (“plumbing”) or gender (how you perceive yourself), or ancestry or ethnic background, except to the extent that they can use that to deprive you of legal leverage. Thanks to a recent court ruling, these things matter even less. Boilerplate language that deprives you of the ability to use the legal system again powerful corporations is now inviolable.

In this time, it is even more important to help awaken US-ians to the need to sacrifice if necessary, but by all means start to deprive the copyright cartels, mobile telephone network operators, cable television operators, broadcasters, and large proprietary software companies of financial resources. I intend to become more active here and elsewhere with long-form writings to inform, persuade, and propel people to use freedom-respecting / freedom-preserving software (open source / free software) to produce their own original, remixable media.

Finally, let us no longer be captivated by the conjoined twin political parties (Republican & Democratic parties). Neither one is for you and I instead of for-profit & non-profit organizations. Neither one is on our side.

Monday, 2011-July-04 at 19:59

Introducing LibreOffice, A New Branch Off Of OpenOffice

The Document Foundation – The Document Foundation

Our mission is to facilitate the evolution of the Community into a new open, independent, and meritocratic organizational structure within the next few months. An independent Foundation is a better match to the values of our contributors, users, and supporters, and will enable a more effective, efficient, transparent, and inclusive Community. We will protect past investments by building on the solid achievements of our first decade, encourage wide participation in the Community, and co-ordinate activity across the Community.

The Document Foundation is producing LibreOffice as the next evolution in the story. There have been some rumblings for quite a while about Sun’s (now Oracle’s) outsize role in OpenOffice. Oracle, of course, is more energetic about its pursuit of higher earnings than Sun was. Some would argue that Oracle is less friendly toward freedom-preserving software (“free / open source software”), and point to its activities around OpenSolaris and Java as examples of this.

I don’t see LibreOffice as a backlash against Oracle, and I wouldn’t want it to be spun that way. It is time for such an important FPS (freedom-preserving software) application as OpenOffice to have a vendor-independent foundation at the helm. Whether Oracle, Sun, IBM, or even Microsoft was the vendor, I’d still believe this is a timely thing.

The current version of LibreOffice is marked as beta, not for daily, real-world use. Being that it is primarily just the most-current version of OpenOffice code with some changes to remove names and trademarks, it should be okay. Still, I don’t generally run beta software, and I’m not advising that anyone else does either.

This is an opportunity for a big forward step. I hope that Oracle will recognize this and that it will assist The Document Foundation with this project–in particular, by transferring any needed “IP” to the foundation and by committing to follow the lead of LibreOffice–so that both they and everyone else can share in the rewards of having an independent foundation in control.

In the meantime, let us continue to find those few use cases where OpenOffice is less suited for the task at hand than the leading proprietary office applications suite. We can then help the Document Foundation to prioritize those areas. The important thing about non-profit community foundations is that they require active participation by members of the community. I intend to be there. How about you?

Hat tip: Roy Schestowitz’ blog.

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Wednesday, 2010-September-29 at 02:47

Oracle-Sun Merger Moves Ahead

After a long review, the EU approved of Oracle’s purchase of Sun. So now it is consumated. Jonathan Schwartz, the Sun CEO, announced his resignation on Twitter.

Oracle has a reputation for being very bottom-line oriented with their businesses. While that is a good thing, in the case of their acquisition of Sun, it caused a lot of questions.

MySQL: Just as Oracle’s namesake relational database management system is the top product in the commercial RDBMS space, MySQL is the top product in the open source RDBMS space. There was justifiable concern that Oracle might use its control over MySQL to eliminate a lot of lower-priced sales. In the process of obtaining approval, Oracle pledged to continue to maintain MySQL’s database products under the GPLv2/commercial plan.

It has seemed that Oracle was pursuing MySQL for years. I recall when Oracle bought Sleepycat, makers of the Berkeley DB. BDB was, at that time, one of two ACID-compliant storage engines that MySQL used. Then, Oracle bought the company behind the InnoDB storage engine, which was the other ACID-compliant storage engine. So the fear that Oracle might shut MySQL down, change its licensing, or slow development was justified.

Java: Many of Oracle’s database features are built around Java. So continued development of Java is pretty well assured. However, seeing that another major Java user is the company behind RDBMS competitor DB2, there could be some changes that are optimized for Oracle’s own products. I use (OOo), KOffice, and AbiWord, all of which have some level of ODF support. (I’m doing some interoperability trials with the standard versions found in Xubuntu and Linux Mint. I have some suggestions for improvement that I hope to write up soon.) OOo is the reference implementation, so I am very interested.

At this time, at least, Oracle intends to keep OOo in active development. This is very good news. But in the interest of motivating Oracle to stick with it, I recommend we try and buy their commercial version, StarOffice, if you can.

Sun hardware: This is where Sun used to make most of its money. In the last few years, I don’t think their sales have been as high. In the x86/AMD64 server market, there are plenty of relatively low-priced competitors (including HP and Dell). Meanwhile, I’m guessing that fewer companies were willing to consider their SPARC hardware. As far as their operating system sales went, I think Solaris was losing ground to both Linux and Windows servers. I believe their biggest market was the financial industry giants, and that market isn’t buying right now.

Sun employees: In any big merger, some employees leave or are left. This one is no exception. It will take some time to find out who is really going to stay for a while. This is going to be good news to competitors of the former Sun Microsystems. It will make some of the industry’s best workers available for hire. So far, it seems that Oracle is losing some of the most well-known dynamic language people.

What does the future hold? If I knew that, I’d buy a lottery ticket.

Tuesday, 2010-February-09 at 04:12 4 comments

Using For Book Layout

How to Layout a Book with Part 1 – Make Tech Easier

It is all in your head: the plot, the characters, the locations, and even the scenes, but for some reason, staring at the blank page and blinking cursor makes you freeze. You like the idea of writing a book but cannot imagine actually completing it. If that feeling sounds familiar, then this might be the right article for you. Even if you have written a book and have it all ready to go, you may intend to self-publish it, start your own publishing company, send it to an editor, or just layout your book so you can see how it looks.

There is a long list of reasons why you might need to prepare an document in book form, and once you have learned how to do it, you will have a useful skill that you or people you know may need in the future. You can use this method for both print publications and e-books

Be sure to read the article, the comments, and the next twp parts of the article. One of the things this covers is the file format to use (export to PDF). The PDF export options have improved for (OOo) 3.0. I was recently working on a computer that had version 2.4.1 and found myself surprised at how few options there used to be.

Now that Microsoft officially considers OOo to be a competitor, we need to show off the additional capabilities of the software. First up, the ease in setting up and using styles, which makes longer documents and documents which will be subject to extensive editing easier to deal with. Native use of the vendor-neutral ODF file formats is another plus. As other products also implement this format (and improve their implementations so they interoperate), it will be less and less necessary to buy any specific vendor’s products in order to communicate. (Could this account for the way ODF was implemented in MS Office 2007 SP2?)


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Tuesday, 2009-July-28 at 02:32

Tech Advice For The New Administration

Andy Updegrove wrote some advice in December that I believe should be on the top of the pile.

To this, I would add just this:

  • OPEN Standards—Where there is an open technology standard, it should be used in preference to any closed, proprietary protocol or format. There should not be any “this file requires XYZ software” or “this site requires XYZ browser or operating system”. If it is paid for the taxpayers, it should be available in open protocols / formats which can be accessed with various implementations on various operating systems.
  • OPEN Source—Because purchasing software is "taking" funds from everyone to deliver to a company, there should be an automatic and enforceable preference for products which provide the most benefit to everyone, without unduly restricting the ability of taxpayers to access/modify/distribute the source of the software they paid for.
  • OPEN exposure—there are always going to be some things that someone in an agency wants to conceal and lock up. More often than not, it turns out that it is something that should have been brought into the open all along. It is important that our government be open with us whenever it can. In many cases, data that shouldn’t be exposed also shouldn’t have been collected to begin with. We should make agencies justify what they collect by revealing it to everyone.

By emphasizing the OPEN, along with the things Andy wrote about, we have a chance to reboot our technology advancement and benefit the whole country’s citizenship.

Finally, emphasize competition in everything we buy or build. Rather than using all one brand of software, we should be using multiple brands that all follow the same open standards. Rather than using one brand of hardware, we once again should be using multiple brands that all follow the same open standards. Where vendors refuse to provide that, use taxpayer funds to build something that does and then make it available to all of us.

Friday, 2009-January-02 at 18:43 1 comment

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