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GNOME & KDE join TDF Advisory Board

Yesterday The Document Foundation, the organisation behind the free and open source LibreOffice suite, announced that GNOME Foundation and KDE e.v. have joined the Advisory Board of The Document Foundation (TDF).

TDF logo

In a reciprocal move to consolidate their relationships, TDF also acquired seats on the boards of both the GNOME Foundation and KDE.

These reciprocal arrangement with the GNOME Foundation is intended to create stronger ties between the two communities and to foster the integration between LibreOffice and one of the most popular desktop environments for Linux.

Gnome logoGNOME is a desktop environment that is composed entirely of free and open source software, targeting Linux but also supported on most derivatives of the BSD operating system. Since the release of GNOME 3.0, the GNOME Project has focused on the development of a set of programs known as the GNOME Core Applications, for the adherence to the current GNOME HUD guidelines and the tight integration with underlying GNOME layers.

The GNOME Foundation is a non-profit organisation that furthers the goals of the GNOME Project, helping it to create a free software computing platform for the general public that is designed to be elegant, efficient and easy to use.

KDE logoKDE has been creating free software since 1996 and shares a lot of values in respect of free software and open document formats with The Document Foundation. In addition, it brings the experience of running a free software organization for almost two decades to the TDF advisory board.

Both TDF and KDE are involved in the OASIS technical committee for the Open Document format (ODF), as well as collaborating on common aspects of development of office software, such as usability and visual design. The affiliation of KDE and The Document Foundation at an organizational level will help progress the shared goal of giving end users control of their computing needs through free software.

Originally published on the author’s own blog.

Rio’s largest favela has its own wifi provider

With the Olympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro this summer, lots of eyes are being turned on the city.

Some of those eyes are being turned on the city’s slums – known locally as “favelas” – with some surprising results.

For instance, Techinsider has discovered that Rocinha, the city’s and Brazil’s largest favela, has its own wifi provider.

view of Rocinha
Rocinha, photographed in 2010. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rocinha has a population estimated at between 70,000 and 300,000 people.

The wifi provider – NetRocinha – over 1,500 high-speed internet customers in the community and its most expensive broadband plan, known as Mega 20, costs the equivalent of just over £18 per month.

Hat tip: Christian Wach.

GNU Taler version 0.0.0 released

Developers at the French Inria research institute and the Technical University of Munich have introduced a new payment protocol called GNU Taler* and released an alpha package with the version number 0.0.0, Germany’s heise Open Source news website reports. The new system should solve the problem thrown up by crypto currencies that payments in these systems can only be traced with difficulty by state institutions for taxation purposes. At the same time, a high degree of user anonymity will also be ensured.

Taler logoHowever, no new currency is to be created as the Talers transferred are merely cryptographic tokens representing other currencies such as Euro or Bitcoins. Users arrange with their bank for a transfer to a Taler exchange and have their Taler coins delivered from it to an online wallet, which they then use for making purchases in online shops. Traders can can the Taler coins received back into the original currency via the Taler exchange, which must of course retain adequate currency reserves. All transactions will take place securely on the basis of cryptographic signatures and cannot be falsified.

Furthermore, no personal information will be disclosed during a Taler transaction. However, information about transactions will be stored in the wallet so that consumers can demand their rights in respect of traders.

Demonstration version online

A demo version for spending toy money is already online. Users will need to install the Wallet add-on for Chrome or Chromium respectively to be able to use it.

The developers are hoping to make the payment system available to the general public in 2016.

* = The original taler or thaler was a silver coin issued by various German states from the 15th to 19th century. The taler is also reputed to be the etymological origin of the mighty US dollar.

Latest version of Snoopers’ Charter before Parliament this week

This week the House of Commons is due to debate the Investigatory Powers Bill, the latest version of the Snoopers’ Charter (news passim), that will allow the United Kingdom’s police and services to regard the entire UK population as potential organised criminals, suspected terrorists and other assorted ne’er-do-wells and enable those same services to monitor the UK residents’ internet traffic and telecommunications.

In advance of the parliamentary debate and to publicise the illiberal nature of Home Secretary Theresa May’s bill, the Open Rights Group installed a public toilet on a busy Friday afternoon in Brick Lane in east London. However, the public toilet was not all that it seemed; it was a toilet with a difference.

The Open Rights Group has also provided a helpful, fact-packed page for MPs on the Snoopers’ Charter to brief them ahead of the debate.

Introducing The Document Liberation Project

DLP logoToday many people have digital content they created years ago and stored in obsolete and proprietary document formats. Very often these old file formats cannot be opened by any application on the user’s current operating system, leaving the users locked out of their own content.

However, it is not just individuals that are affected: public and private sector organisations are similarly afflicted; and this can have huge consequences when, say, a a government is unable to read or access digital data it has created in the past.

This is where The Document Liberation Project comes into its own.

The Document Liberation Project was created to enable, people, private and public sector organisations to recover their data from proprietary formats and to provide a means of converting the recovered data into open and standardised file formats, such as Open Document Format, thus returning effective control over the content to the actual authors from the software computer that devised the proprietary formats.

To achieve this, The Document Liberation Project develops software libraries that applications can use to read data in proprietary formats.

The following video explains how this process works.

Read more about The Document Liberation Project and the list of projects it supports.

Originally posted on the author’s own blog.

OwnCloud founder forks off to establish Nextcloud

OwnCloud founder Frank Karlitschek has coined his own version of the synchronisation software. Until the end of April Karlitschek was the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of OwnCloud Inc., but then left the company due to differences of opinion on the direction of OwnCloud, German technology news site heise Open Source reports.

Since Karlitschek’s move, several other developers have also announced their departure from OwnCloud Inc.

A new company, Nextcloud GmbH, will provide support for the OwnCloud fork. “At least nine of OwnCloud’s top developers” will be working for Nextcloud, according to Karlitschek. Nextcloud wants to develop a “drop-in replacement” for version 9.0 of OwnCloud, which was released at the start of March.

In addition, Nextcloud is offering to take on the support contracts of existing OwnCloud customers.

Nextcloud logo

More stable software promised

Nextcloud wants to take greater account of the interests of the developer and user community and is promising a more stable and reliable software package.

Furthermore, Nextcloud want to improve calendar and address book integration since these functions have not been supported to date in the enterprise version of OwnCloud.

Nextcloud GmbH is also collaborating closely with video-conferencing software provider Spreed.ME. The community version of OwnCloud 9 already includes Spreed’s software. Karlitschek is inviting the community to join in and the necessary infrastructure should be in place in a few days.

The announcement of the OwnCloud fork took place two days after OwnCloud Inc. had established a foundation to co-ordinate the software’s future development and ensure both the continuing free availability of the software and the project’s long-term survival.

Both OwnCloud and the Nextcloud fork are open source applications with which a cloud service for storing and synchronising files and other data can be implemented on users’ servers.

In addition, both OwnCloud Inc. and Nextcloud GmbH offer paid-for enterprise versions with additional features and support.

Update 06/06/16: In a further development reported today by heise, OwnCloud Inc. is closing down as a result of the departure of Frank Karlitschek’s departure, stating the announcement had left it “surprised and disappointed“. The German branch of the business, OwnCloud GmbH, is continuing its operations, as is the recently founded OwnCloud Foundation.

Collabora Online 1.0 “Engine” for hosters and clouds released

Collabora Productivity, the driving force behind putting the free and open source LibreOffice productivity suite in the cloud, has announced the release the first production grade version of Collabora Online, its flagship cloud document suite solution. Codenamed “Engine”, it is targeted specifically at hosting and cloud businesses who wish to support both commercial and consumer document viewing, creation and editing services in their portfolios.

“Collabora Online 1.0 is the culmination of several years’ intensive work”, remarked Michael Meeks, Collabora Productivity’s General Manager. “Our objective is to enable key document suite service delivery for hosters by integrating seamlessly with their existing groupware, storage, file sharing and other customer solutions. Critically, Collabora will tailor the look and feel of the integration to complement a hoster’s identity and desired product experience.”

Collabora Online Impress in action
Collabora Online Impress in action

For this release Collabora Productivity has also updated its demo, which now includes, amongst other things:

  • Header menus;
  • Right click menus;
  • Tables
  • Comments

Interested potential users can request access to the demo from Collabora.

Open Source licence API developed

OSI logoOver the last 19 years the Open Source Initiative (OSI) has been the steward of the Open Source Definition (or OSD), establishing a common language when discussing what an Open Source licence means. In addition, the OSI has maintained a list of licences known to be compatible with the OSD.

This is being taken to its next logical step this year, with the OSI providing a machine-readable publication of approved licences. This will allow third parties to become licence-aware, as well as enabling organisations to determine clearly if a license is indeed an Open Source licence from the authoritative source regarding Open Source licensing.

Brandon Keepers, Open Source Lead at GitHub, remarked: “A canonical, machine-readable source of license metadata is a great step towards enabling developers to build tools around open source licensing and compliance. We can’t wait to see what the community does with it.”

The concept behind this API is to be a “hub” to store a central list of crosswalks and common identifiers to other services, enabling third parties who are already licence-aware to provide their mappings and pull OSI approval status programmatically. As a proof of concept, SPDX identifiers have been added, trivially allowing cross-walks to SPDX datasets. This allows anyone to take an SPDX licence ID and determine whether it’s approved by the OSI by asking the OSI API.

The source for the machine readable data can be found in github and very basic API wrappers have been published for Python and Go, as well as Ruby.

“Fast” broadband to become “a right” in UK

Today the United Kingdom witnessed the annual, anachronistic, Ruritanian pantomime otherwise known as the State Opening of Parliament, an event performed by the unelected in fancy dress which marks the formal start of a session of the UK parliament.

The substantial part of the ceremony is the delivery of the Queen’s Speech, written for her by the government and outlining the government’s programme of legislation for the coming year.

The transcript of the speech is available already.

There is one major item of interest to those whose major concern is connectivity; paragraph 4 of the speech states:

Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband.

After that one sentence, the speech then moves on to other matters.

One glaring omission of the entire speech is the lack of any detail. Even for the small section of the speech examined here, there is no definition of what constitutes “high speed broadband“.

Given that the UK definition of so-called “superfast” is a measly 24 Mbps, can it be assumed that “high speed broadband” will be lower than that paltry rate? By way of comparison, the EU Commission’s definition of “superfast” broadband is slightly higher, weighing in at “at least” 30 Mbps.

Update 19/05/16: Further details have now come to light. The BBC reports that the details of the Digital Economy Bill will include the following:

  • A minimum speed of 10Mbps to be guaranteed through the Broadband Universal Service Obligation;
  • Householders in remote areas may have to contribute to the costs of installation;
  • A right to automatic compensation when the service is unavailable;
  • UK companies must get consent before sending promotional emails, with fines for transgressors; and
  • All websites containing pornographic images to require age verification for access.

As regards the final item in the list, we wonder how the UK government is going to enforce this requirement on sites based on servers beyond their jurisdiction, since this seems like wishful thinking by technically ignorant government ministers and equally incompetent civil servants.

Bitkeeper becomes open source

BitKeeper logoSome 11 years ago after the licence disputes between Linux developers and Bitmover, the producer of the BitKeeper version control system, gave rise to the development of Git and Mercurial, the most widely used version control systems today, BitKeeper is now also available as open source software, German IT news site heise reports. The tool has been covered by the Apache License 2.0 since 9th May 2016.

In 2002 Linux creator Linus Torvalds and colleagues accessed BitKeeper since it was the only system that enabled an automated retrospective rearrangement on a version control system. However, in 2005 Bitmover then withdrew from the community, on account of which the proprietary BitKeeper package could not be used any more for open source development and Torvalds began the development of Git, which has since become the top distributed version control system with the github hosting service.

Although development of BitKeeper has continued over the years, with the most recent release taking place in September 2015, use of the software is reputed not be be very widespread. Consequently, the heise report’s author believes its release as open source must be regarded as a final effort to keep the software going.