Understanding Free and Open Source Software


There are many misconceptions floating around about free and open source software (foss). The purpose of this article is to address them and to better inform people.

The first response I seem to get when I discuss ‘free software’ is, oh but you have to pay for quality, or maybe, well how can developers afford to give away software for nothing. Well in the first instance, free refers to liberty rather than cost. Freedom to copy, change and modify software and indeed you may actually pay for access to free software, although this is generally not the case. Software code is like any other type of knowledge; it should not be hidden from the user.

Another frustrating and misleading idea is that foss kills innovation. If anything free software is the key to innovative creation, we only need to look at Firefox web browser or WordPress blogs to see non-proprietary software flourishing.

So you may ask why do we need to concern ourselves with free software if proprietary software works and can offer stability? In modern society computers, televisions and mobile phones are commonplace; indeed we have come to rely upon them. The software controls and transmits our sensitive information; we should be in control of this software and have a better understanding of how it works in order to maintain our liberty and control.

Other frustrating misconceptions about foss include political aspects. People at times assume that foss is akin to communism; this is a falsity. You can indeed have private ownership over free software, you can modify at will and can reap the rewards of its use. A free software licence only requires that if you do redistribute the software, that you must keep it free; allowing others to modify and redistribute. Or if you wish to keep your modifications private, you must ensure that the original free software is kept separate and that your addition does not contain the original work. The free software license is simply a legal and ethical contract between the programmer and the end-user.

I feel that whilst this information is relatively basic it is all to often taken for granted or misunderstood, so if this sounds repetitive then humour me please. Oh and Happy New Year!

Microsoft’s deal with New Zealand comes to an end

Microsoft’s nine-year software licencing deal with the New Zealand government has apparently collapsed according to the Inquirer today.

In a statement, the State Services Commission (SSC) said that negotiations for another three-year extension of the agreement failed when it “became apparent during discussions that a formal agreement with Microsoft is no longer appropriate.”

SSC spokesperson Marian Mortensen said the government looked for value for money, fitness for purpose along with strategic benefit in its negotiations. “We didn’t feel we got the appropriate levels of benefit from the negotiations,” she said. Don Christie, chair of the New Zealand Open Source Society, said that failure of the SSC’s negotiations with Microsoft could provide new opportunities for more use of open source software in government.

Don Christie, chair of the New Zealand Open Source Society criticised the goverment IT managers for not having explored open source software alternatives previously.

New Zealand’s SSC has pioneered the use of open standards and open source software within Kiwi government, winning an open source award last year. The organisation said it will be “supporting agencies to explore how they can maximise their ICT investment and achieve greater value for money.”


eyeOS is an open source web desktop following the Cloud computing concept, but based on private cloud computing which protects your personal information and offers more security. It acts as a platform for web applications written using the eyeOS Toolkit. It includes a Desktop environment with 67 applications and system utilities.

The idea of eyeOS is to create a free, open source (AGPLv3) product easy to install on a web server so you will have your own cloud system under your control. You can also participate in a great community of users and developers, able to create your own apps. Welcome to the eyeOS project. If you do not want to install eyeOS in your own server, you can create an account in our free public server and start using eyeOS right now. Just go to eyeos.info and discover the power of eyeOS.

Around two and a half years ago I made a video blog about eyeOS where he looks at the various eye applications. eyeOS was created in Spain in 2005 and since then has grown and evolved, it is now available in more than 30 different languages. You can download eyeOS here, its totally free and is open source unlike many of its competitors.

Stallman on the Javascript Trap

This week Richard Stallman has added to his earlier comments about web-based (so-called cloud) applications, which are mostly written in JavaScript, but sometimes in Flash. Stallman wants people to run free software so that they can read and change the source code and share the results. As Stallman explains these cloud apps don’t provide for that. They just download huge chunks of code to your PC without even telling you;

For instance, Google Docs downloads into your machine a Javascript program which measures half a megabyte, in a compacted form that we could call Obfuscript because it has no comments and hardly any whitespace, and the method names are one letter long. The source code of a program is the preferred form for modifying it; the compacted code is not source code and the real source code of this program is not available to the user.
Browsers don’t normally tell you when they load Javascript programs. Most browsers have a way to turn off Javascript entirely, but none of them can check for Javascript programs that are nontrivial and non-free. Even if you’re aware of this issue, it would take you considerable trouble to identify and then block those programs. However, even in the free software community most users are not aware of this issue; the browsers’ silence tends to conceal it.

Stallman sends a clear message to anyone who believes in free and open source software that online web based applications are not free.

The Open University?

The UK’s Open Source Consortium has accused the Open University of breaching its founding principles.  The Open University came about in the 1960’s as a move towards making university education available to all regardless of income or gender. Given the sort of forward thinking involved it is somewhat worrying that the OU has so far failed to support free software. If anything the OU seems to favour the proprietry software provided by Microsoft.

As reported by the Inquirer, the OU’s bias lies in the student technical support services:

It advises students that if they don’t use a Windows PC they “may have problems accessing the software and data files supplied with course materials”. It has produced a 31-page guide to using Microsoft software and also provides demonstrations. It has produced upgrade advice for Microsoft’s Vista operating system and even gone as far as promoting a Microsoft discount offer to its students.

The OU does distribute copies of the Open Source Star Office to all students, but that endorsement pales in comparison to its backing of Microsoft. It has given no such advice, support or endorsement of Ubuntu, the free operating system lauded as the Open Source movement’s viable alternative to Windows.

Its worrying that a student running a pc with open source software, on a limited income would have to basically scrap their set up and buy into microsoft in order to join the OU.

Free Open Source Software comes to UK schools

EDU_OSDC_BYU_520x292_FINALIt is great to hear that at least one Open Source company has now made it onto Becta’s official list of suppliers to the UK education sector. 

As usual it’s all about money. The Open Source community has always advocated that schools in the UK adopted Free Open Source Software (FOSS) on the grounds that there were considerable cost savings to be had which would directly benefit schools and the taxpayer alike.

As long ago as 2005 a report from Becta strongly supported this assertion. However this was a time when huge amounts of a cash-rich Government’s money were being poured into developing school ICT and value for money was not really on the agenda. As a result the incumbent proprietary vendors enjoyed a feeding frenzy and Open Source solutions were ignored. Indeed it was impossible, despite persistent lobbying, to get an Open Source company on the official school suppliers list. As I said, how times change. If we revisit school’s ICT finances 2008 we see a different picture.                         


As Becta suggested two years ago, the current UK ICT structure requires a level of funding which is unsustainable, adopting Free Open Source Software could directly benefit schools and tax payers alike.

co-ment : Web-based text annotation

Most people know that stet was the first Web2.0 application, its the software that was built to facilitate public consultation during the Version 3 draft process of the GNU General Public License.

I’ve been meaning to write something about Bradley Kuhn and the AGPL but keep getting sidetracked. Here’s his article about identi.ca: Like Twitter, but with Freedom Inside.

Ive tried on many occasions to get stet up and running with no success, then I saw a post on the stet mailing list pointing to co-ment. Check it out, it looks excellent and is licensed under AGPL, Hopefully I can get this up and running.

It is to our knowledge one of the first instances of distribution of the full code base of a large Web 2.0 application service

I’ve embedded a text below, click on it and try to add some comments. the width of the column on this theme wont be that nice for this but still give it a go. Heh, I havent even finished this post and PhilippeAigrain commented on the text. Its not based on any code from stet. well you can read the comment yourself. It may be easier to tinker with this text on the co-ment site itself. Wow another comment offering advice on how o get help installing it. What a wonderful community. Its bed time for me, some nights I find it so easy to sleep.

FSF Helps Launch Autonomo.us To Focus On Freedom In Network Services

From Slashdot:

mako writes “The FSF just announced the results of a meeting it held on software freedom and network services. They are hailing the launch of a new group called Autonomo.us to follow up on these issues and the publication of the Franklin Street Statement on Freedom and Network Services which lays out a set of recommendations and guidelines for protecting freedom for software as a service.”

More from Mako on his blog:Autonomo.us and the Franklin Street Statement.

Though I first saw info about this on Evan Prodromou’s journal when he was talking about his work on identica.

Evan Profromou

Wonder if this WordIdentica wordpress plugin will work.

Really enjoying identica 😀

What you do makes me cry at night

Watch this video

Severn Cullis-Suzuki on Wikipedia.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki (born November 30, 1979 in Vancouver, Canada) is an environmental activist, speaker, television host and author. Born to writer Tara Elizabeth Cullis and geneticist and environmental activist David Suzuki, she has spoken around the world about environmental issues, urging listeners to define their values, act with the future in mind, and take individual responsibility.

She’s 12 yrs old in the video, I thought her delivery was excellent. Unfortunately in nearly all schools these days computers running proprietary software are used to teach children that sharing is wrong and its ok if your forbidden from learning how things work in that environment because apparently thats the way the world works. Its not something I agree with but its not something I try to change anymore. Sometimes I still hang out with teachers online but its not really the same as working with them.

I met Dean Groom on Secondlife. He makes things happen.

Enter a conversation with Jokaydian Gnu Curry. A week or so later, our OpenSim is operational, all be it in a testing phase. Right now we’re reading as much as we can … and using the SL Client to view OpenSim…Read more

Though perhaps those students can cut even more costs using open source games like nexuiz, tremulous, Flightgear, Scorched 3D, GNU Chess and Frozen Bubble.

Its late, I’m tired, thanks for reading.