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China trials free WiFi service on train

glassy wifi symbolPassengers on board Train No. T809 from Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, to Hong Kong enjoyed free wireless network access today (Friday), according to ChinaDaily Europe, marking the inauguration of the first WiFi access service on the Chinese railway network.

The other 23 trains serving the route will also be fitted with the equipment to provide the service soon. After installation there will be a trial service period of three months before the service is launched officially.

The equipment on the train is able to provide WiFi for up to 1,000 passengers at a time.

It is not known whether there will be a charge for the service once it is officially launched.

Software licensing practices questioned in Dutch parliament

photo of Astrid OosenbrugThe licensing practices of proprietary software companies such as Microsoft have been questioned this week in the lower house (Tweede Kamer) of the Dutch parliament.

The questions were triggered by the case of the Municipality of Arnhem, which wanted to switch from the ubiquitous MS Office suite to a free and open source alternative such as Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice. After being penalised to the tune of €600,000, Arnhem has now dropped its plans to make the switch to an alternative productivity suite.

Taking the example of Arnhem, Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) MP Astrid Oosenbrug (pictured), her party’s spokesperson on ICT and privacy matters, has submitted the written questions below to the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations:


Questions from member Oosenbrug (Labour) to the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations about closed source software manufacturers keeping a grip on local authorities (submitted 27th November 2014).

Have you taken note of the report “Licence fine forces town to drop move to alternative office tools” 1), which states that the Municipality of Arnhem was being forced to buy a licence for €600,000 by way of penalty for the unlicensed use of office software?

Is it true that the Municipality of Arnhem has had to pay this amount to avoid further legal action arising from unauthorised use in the past and thus has a licence for the relevant software package for years to come? If not, what is the actual situation?

Do you agree that this method from the software’s supplier results in forced custom because the local authority is forced to buy new licences for the current software and switching to open source software becomes unprofitable? If not, why don’t you share that opinion?

Do you recognise the picture that local authorities announcing their desire to move to open source come under additional pressure from their current providers of closed source software? Do you want to draw up an inventory of how many local authorities are faced with this?

Do you believe that this is a commercial practice which is undesirable? If not, why not? If so, what can local authorities or you do about it?

Do you agree that local authorities must have perfect freedom to be able to choose between closed and open source software? If so, how will you help local authorities reduce the threat of fines for unauthorised use to reasonable levels so that they do not affect the future choice of software?


Bristol academics give data security advice

Monitor and padlockBristol University announced yesterday that two reports edited by Professor Nigel Smart, its Professor of Cryptology, have now been published by ENISA. The 2 reports are as follows:

  • The Algorithms, key size and parameters report 2014 is a reference document providing a set of guidelines for decision makers, in particular specialists designing and implementing cryptographic solutions for commercial online services.
  • The Study on cryptographic protocols provides an implementation perspective, covering guidelines regarding protocols required to protect commercial online communications containing personal data.

The reports give guidance to companies, EU member states and the wider community about current best scientific practice in the rapidly advancing field of cryptography.

The first report provides a set of proposals in an easy to use form, with a focus on commercial online services that collect, store and process the personal data of EU citizens.

The second report focuses on the current status in cryptographic protocols and encourages further research. A quick overview is presented on protocols which are used in relatively restricted application areas, such as wireless, mobile communications or banking (Bluetooth, WPA/WEP, UMTS/LTE, ZigBee, EMV) and specific environments focusing on Cloud computing.

The reports, which also had input from a number of members from the Cryptography Research group in the University’s Computer Science Department, provide an update to the 2013 cryptographic guidelines report on security measures required to protect personal data in online systems.

Ofcom to give boost to rural and mobile broadband

laptop with USB mobile broadband dongleYesterday’s Daily Telegraph reports that Ofcom is to make more frequencies available for mobile broadband. This will result in faster and cheaper mobile data services and will benefit those in rural areas in particular.

The 700 MHz frequency band that is currently used by digital terrestrial TV services and wireless microphones will be opened up to mobile network operators for the provision of mobile broadband.

The downside of this liberation of the frequency spectrum will affect TV viewers, who’ll have to retune their equipment of buy new kit.

As the Bristol Post points out:*

THOUSANDS of Bristol residents will have to retune their TV sets following a decision to sell off the broadcasting frequencies used by Freeview.

(Here in the lab we believe retuning might affect slightly more than the Bristol area, Mr Norton. Indeed it might affect the whole of the UK. Ed. :-) )

Ofcom said it was hoping make the change by the beginning of 2020 although it could take place up to two years earlier.

The move represents a “crucial next step” in the development of the UK’s communications infrastructure, according to Ofcom’s CEO Ed Richards.

Hat tip: John Popham.

* = It does appear as if the Bristol Post may have got something else slightly wrong in its report, as pointed out by this tweet from Naomi Jame:

FreeBSD round-up

FreeBSD logoSince the free and open source operating systems field tends to be dominated by GNU/Linux in its various forms and distributions, it’s easy to forget that others are available.

One of these – FreeBSD – is having a newsworthy week at present. FreeBSD is one of the most popular Unix derivatives based upon the 4.4BSDLite2 free version of Unix.

To begin with, the release of FreeBSD 10.1 was announced.

On x86-64 systems, this new release of FreeBSD can now also boot via UEFI, which new hardware typically uses to boot operating systems. However, UEFI support is not included in the standard download, but requires its own disk image.

Secondly, the FreeBSD Foundation, which exists to support FreeBSD, has announced a very generous donation indeed.

The Foundation has received a $1,000,000 donation from Jan Koum, CEO and Co-Founder of WhatsApp. This marks the largest single donation to the Foundation since its inception almost 15 years ago and, in the Foundation’s words, “serves as another example of someone using FreeBSD to great success and then giving back to the community.” The Foundation is also assembling a team to decide how best to spend this donation, which has matched its funding target for the year in one fell swoop.

Jan Koum himself issued the following statement with regard to his donation:

Last week, I donated one million dollars to the FreeBSD Foundation, which supports the open source operating system that has helped millions of programmers pursue their passions and bring their ideas to life.

I’m actually one of those people. I started using FreeBSD in the late 90s, when I didn’t have much money and was living in government housing. In a way, FreeBSD helped lift me out of poverty – one of the main reasons I got a job at Yahoo! is because they were using FreeBSD, and it was my operating system of choice. Years later, when Brian and I set out to build WhatsApp, we used FreeBSD to keep our servers running. We still do.

I’m announcing this donation to shine a light on the good work being done by the FreeBSD Foundation, with the hope that others will also help move this project forward. We’ll all benefit if FreeBSD can continue to give people the same opportunity it gave me – if it can lift more immigrant kids out of poverty, and help more startups build something successful, and even transformative.

Groupon abandons its Gnome trademark applications

Gnome logoYesterday we reported on the threat to the GNOME Foundation’s GNOME trademark from Gnome trademark applications made by Groupon (news passim).

Groupon has now withdrawn its Gnome trademark applications and issued the following statement.

Groupon is a strong and consistent supporter of the open source community, and our developers are active contributors to a number of open source projects. We’ve been communicating with the Foundation for months to try to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution, including alternative branding options, and we’re happy to continue those conversations. Our relationship with the open source community is more important to us than a product name. And if we can’t come up with a mutually acceptable solution, we’ll be glad to look for another name.

UPDATE: After additional conversations with the open source community and the Gnome Foundation, we have decided to abandon our pending trademark applications for “Gnome.” We will choose a new name for our product going forward.

Introducing the Pi-Top

A group of developers has developed a DIY laptop kit, heise reports. All components can be assembled in a way that’s friendly for beginners and without soldering. With the Pi-Top you’ll be learning DIY both for hardware and software.

Jesse Lonzano and Ryan Dunwoody had the idea of developing the Raspberry Pi-based Pi-Top DIY laptop at the start of this year. The pair of British developers want to promote the Maker culture. “We think hardware is great, but we know that complex obstacles must be overcome before you can really start to build things yourself. With the Pi-Top we wanted to make it easier to learn this complex knowledge”, they state.

Until one minute to midnight on 13th November you can support the project and purchase a Pi-Top Kit for US $285. The Indiegogo campaign has already achieved 159% of its target funding, so the production of the DIY laptops is ensured. The Pi-Top team is expecting to ship the kits in May 2015.

In addition to the complete kit, consisting amongst other things of a 3D-printed casing, a Model A Raspberry Pi, a display, a keyboard and a wifi adapter, the kit also contains pre-installed learning software. This comprises various training modules which teach the basics for hardware and software projects. This package will also be available free of charge in the future.

Help the GNOME Foundation defend the GNOME trademark against Groupon!

Gnome logoThe GNOME Foundation is a non-profit organisation promoting 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.

image of Groupon's Gnome offeringThe Foundation is currently facing a threat to its GNOME trademark from global deal-of-the-day website merchants Groupon, who have recently announced a product that’s also called Gnome. Groupon’s Gnome comes in the form of a tablet-based point-of-sale “operating system for merchants to run their entire operation.” It therefore has little to do with creating an elegant, efficient, easy to use free software platform for the general public, but more with liberating cash from the wallets and purses of the general public. The Groupon offering is shown on the left.

As a result of this threat from Groupon, the GNOME Foundation has released the following statement and appeal for funds.

“GNOME” has been a familiar name in software for the past 17 years, and a registered trademark since 2006. The GNOME project has been a staple desktop for GNU/Linux and BSD desktops. It was the default desktop for Sun Microsystems workstation class machines, continues to be the default desktop for the Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server distributions, and it is the default desktop of Fedora and Debian. SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Service solution for the retail industry is based on GNOME. GNOME technology can be found in TVs, tablets, phones, consumer devices, and in common software everywhere.

Recently Groupon announced a product with the same product name as GNOME. Groupon’s product is a tablet based point of sale “operating system for merchants to run their entire operation.” The GNOME community was shocked that Groupon would use our mark for a product so closely related to the GNOME desktop and technology. It was almost inconceivable to us that Groupon, with over $2.5 billion in annual revenue, a full legal team and a huge engineering staff would not have heard of the GNOME project, found our trademark registration using a casual search, or even found our website, but we nevertheless got in touch with them and asked them to pick another name. Not only did Groupon refuse, but it has now filed even more trademark applications (the full list of applications they filed can be found here, here and here). To use the GNOME name for a proprietary software product that is antithetical to the fundamental ideas of the GNOME community, the free software community and the GNU project is outrageous. Please help us fight this huge company as they try to trade on our goodwill and hard earned reputation.

We want to show that our brand matters and that you care. Of the 28 trademark applications Groupon filed, we have to file formal proceedings to oppose 10 of them by December 3, 2014. Help us raise the funds to fight back and most of all call public attention to this terrible behavior by Groupon. Help us make sure that when people hear about GNOME software they learn about freedom and not proprietary software. Our counsel has advised us that we will need $80,000 to oppose the registration of the first set of 10 applications. If we are able to defend the mark without spending this amount, we will use the remaining funds to bolster and improve GNOME. Please help us raise the money to protect GNOME’s trademark and strengthen Free Software!

GNOME will gratefully accept donations to fight this trademark dispute to preserve free software.

vCard and iCalendar are now UK government open standards

Whilst the present government’s record may be regarded by some as controversial, to say the least, there’s one area where some real progress has been made; and that’s the adoption of open standards by central government.

In July this year, there was the adoption of Open Document Format (ODF), PDF and PDF/A and HTML (news passim), with ODF for collaborating on and sharing government documents and the other 3 standards for viewing government documents.

Yesterday, the Open Standards Board announced that RFC 5545 (iCalendar) and RFC 6350 (vCard) have now been adopted as open standards for government for exchanging calendar events and contact details respectively.

This means both vCard and iCalendar are now in the implementation phase and Sir Humphrey and his colleagues are encouraged to report problems with adopted standards on the Standards Hub.

The vCard and iCalendar formats have both been in widespread use for more than 10 years. The versions selected by the Board are specified and maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force who ratify a number of commonly used extensions. The versions are largely backwards compatible with previous versions produced and consumed by a very wide range of applications.

Well done Whitehall. When is this adoption of open standards and formats going to start spreading to the UK’s town halls. If it already has, tell us in the comments below.

Open Source and the Cloud coming to Hove

Our friends at Omnis Systems in Brighton are organising an event – Open Source, the Cloud and your Business – at Sussex County Cricket Club, Hove, BN3 3AN (map) on Tuesday 18th November.

Banner for event

Many organisations in the private, public, voluntary and community sectors are now starting to look seriously or are in part using “the Cloud” and Open Source technology. However, there is still some as to the business benefits that can be realised by using these tools.

Those who worry are not alone. Very often even IT resellers and consultants find it difficult to understand if they are offering the best solutions to their customers as they have limited visibility on what is available apart from the offerings from their standard vendors.

This seminar will be examining what Cloud and Open source technology actually are, how public and private sector organisations are using them and what business opportunities they offer. The seminar will also explore a few of the common myths that surround those technologies and get into some real life case studies on how organisations can benefit.

Time Description Speakers
09:00 / 09:30 Registration & event presentation  
09:30 / 10:00 Cloud, Open Source or both? Understanding what “Cloud” really is. The definition, the services, the good, the bad and the ugly. There are very useful aspects of the Cloud to consider but there are also some issues that have security, economical and ethical impacts you may have not considered. Paolo Vecchi
Omnis Systems
10:00 / 10:30 How you could help the Public Sector in being more efficient by offering your services through G-Cloud and how we can help you getting there faster. Chris Farthing
Advice Cloud
10:30 / 11:00

Providing “Cloud” services since before it was cool. Moving bits for UK businesses.

Joe Kerr
11:00 / 11:30 Coffee break & time for networking/questions  
11:30 / 12:00 Securing your Cloud identity with Single Sign-On and strong authentication Giuseppe Paternò
12:00 / 12:30 Local Government representative from London talking about their experience with Open Source and Open Alliances that could be formed between organisations to share code and experiences (Awaiting confirmation and full speech description)  TBA
12:30 / 13:30 Lunch break and networking  
13:30 / 14:00 Technology Choices for Business Strategy

Businesses compete fiercely in a market changing ever faster. Public bodies too must deliver better for less. Their strategic response is to focus on users, iterate products, drive down costs, design for easy change, share knowledge and experience, and widen access to more kinds of suppliers and innovation. Find out how your technology choices can support business aims.

Tariq Rashid, speaking in a personal capacity, previously leading on open source for the Cabinet Office.

Tariq Rashid
14:00 / 14:30

Open what? Does Open Source matter to my business? It may matter as, like it or not, you are using a lot of it but your suppliers don’t want to tell you.

We will also look at examples of how IT resellers let down their customers by selling them the wrong solutions for the job and how Councils spend (badly?) our money…

… and at a few tools, including Collax V-Cube & Business Server, that businesses can adopt to consolidate their IT infrastructure, simplify its management and reduce costs.

Paolo Vecchi
Omnis Systems
14:30 / 15:00

Zarafa Communication Platform a safer & cost-effective way to communicate

Zarafa has always been the best drop-in replacement for Microsoft Exchange but now is taking its ambitions further. With the inclusion of telephony, video conferencing, file & document sharing and many other features Zarafa is now ready to take on Office365 and GoogleApps. What’s the point? You can control your data & your privacy, integrate your applications and at the same time spend even less than by using general purpose Cloud applications.

Zarafa Communication Platform can be installed on Linux distributions like RedHat, Ubuntu and Debian. In this presentation it will be shown running on Univention Corporate Server which allows you to manage your Linux based infrastructure using a professionally designed web interface.

Marco Welter
15:00 / 15:30 LibreOffice-from-Collabora provides an enterprise hardened and supported build of the world’s most popular Open Source ‘Office’ software LibreOffice. Large Corporate and Public Sector organisations now have a secure and long term supported alternative to proprietary Office software. Tim Eyles
15:30 / 16:00 Coffee break, networking, QA  
16:00 / 16:30 Reducing costs and complexity. Open Source based solutions for Windows and Linux desktop virtualisation Mike Trevor
Cutter Project
16:30 / 17:00

Entando, the most agile way to share informations and connect to the “Internet of Things”

Rinaldo Bonazzo
17:00 / 17:30 How Linux and Open Source platforms allow us manage millions of emails and contacts on our mailing and CRM solutions Andrew Mann
17:30 / 18:30 QA, networking, beers, wine.  

Full details are available on the Omnis Systems website.

Register for the event via Eventbrite.

Your correspondent will be attending and will report back after the event.