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Russia opts for ReactOS as Windows alternative

After the Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov suggested a common approach by the BRICS states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – to solving the dependency on imported software earlier this year, Russia recently announced a list of possible options, German IT news site heise reports. There is to be a concerted promotion of open source projects as a part of the national programme to ensure economic development. In addition to two Linux distributions developed by Russian companies, the ReactOS project has also been chosen as a Windows alternative worthy of promotion. However, what that actually means remains unclear for the time being. The Russian programme is only envisaging software alternatives being made available within 10 years.

Although the ReactOS project has no announced any major technical progress since the integration of rudimentary support for NTFS, the developers have nevertheless not been inactive: “Over 750 bug reports filed by the community have been processed, resulting in appreciably better software compatibility,” ReactOS developer Colin Finck remarked in a discussion with heise. In particular, the emulation implemented in the last year for executing 16-bit applications (NTVDM) and Java support have been improved.

ReactOS logo

Thus not only can the installation routine of Oracle’s Java Runtime Environment be executed with the current build of ReactOS, but also ancient software such as the FreeGEM desktop or previously barred applications such as Skype. Support for the UDF file system for reading optical data carriers is also new.

Grant showing results

Initial results are also being produced by the student scholarship system which had been selected by Verein ReactOS Deutschland e.V. after a successful funding campaign over the last year on fundraising site Indiegogo. “With the completion of the new Explorers and Shell32 with theme support, which has been rebuilt from the ground up, the system interface works more nimbly and is also more comfortable to use as regards Explorer,” Finck explains. He has now started work on a printer stack which should be ready by December 2015 and could become a component of ReactOS 0.4.0.

No deadline for new release

Although there is no definite deadline for a new release of ReactOS with all new features, the project is nevertheless making automatic daily build versions available for download. The ReactOS developers themselves classify both the daily builds and previous releases as alpha versions which are only recommended for testing.

The ReactOS community is hoping for a further surge in development from the first ReactOS Hackfest, which is taking place in Aachen, Germany from 7th to 12th August 2015. According to the organisers, more than half of the current ReactOS developers have already registered for the event. According to current plans, improving ReactOS’ hardware support and working on the forthcoming version 0.4.0 shall form the focus of the event.

BarnCamp burns the nerd gag

Last weekend saw the staging of BarnCamp 2015 (in which Bristol Wireless’ volunteers have been involved since its inception. Ed.). Running from Friday 19th June to Sunday 21st, BarnCamp was as usual a low-cost rural DIY skillsharing event open to everyone, including UK activists, campaigners, people involved in social and community groups and anybody else with an interest in technology and how to subvert it to put it to good use.

According to the sales pitch: “All skill levels are invited and we promise that workshops are not too geeky due to our infamous nerd gag” (of which more later. Ed.).

Once again we were the guests of Highbury Farm, a housing co-operative set in some 30 acres of unimproved but rather steep grassland at Redbrook in the beautiful Wye Valley south of Monmouth.

Looking north towards Monmouth from Highbury Farm
Looking north towards Monmouth from Highbury Farm

Your correspondent formed part of the forward crew who went to site on Wednesday to set up the event. This year a few more of us were on hand to ensure that all the essential infrastructure – large tents for workshops, signage, kitchen, other refreshment facilities, camp fire, showers and the like – was all in place for the first arrivals. Indeed it was more or less complete by lunchtime on Thursday. Well done all!

Once into the event proper, each day started with breakfast, followed by a plenary session, then workshops, lunch, more workshops and concluding with supper and socialising.

The workshops this year had the usual variety: an introduction to satellite communications, basic electronics, using WordPress and OpenStreetMap, to mention but a few. There were even sessions on basic self defence, whilst Ben’s ever-popular wild food walk took place on no fewer than 3 occasions.

Your correspondent was in charge of building the nightly campfire, a duty that occasionally involved some sheltering of the previous night’s embers from the rain, whilst even the woodpile showed its geeky side.

sign on woodpile reading session locked; enter password
The pyromaniac’s equivalent of the locked screen

The woodpile geeking out wasn’t the only bit of strangeness occurring on site during BarnCamp. There was also the the intriguing sounding shamanic laptop massage that happened somewhere in the surrounding woodland, for which scant photographic evidence exists.

Shamanic laptop massage montage
Shamanic laptop massage

What’s happened to the nerd gag? And what is it in the first place? This was a standard implemented some years ago to stop the less technical becoming too intimidated to the use of too much jargon by the more technically adept. Workshop presenters are encouraged to explain things properly if anyone so asks; this year there was even a space on the information wall where BarnCampers could share the jargon they had just acquired.

BarnCamp jargon buster
BarnCamp jargon buster

Nevertheless, there was one workshop – Sunday morning’s session on server optimisation – that not only ripped off the nerd gag, but set light to it and threw it away! (And that was just with the first slide of the presentation! That one slide contained more technical acronyms than the rest of the programme put together. Ed.) However, this was perhaps the most jargon-laden session of the weekend and the most geeky, but it did come with lots of laughs… as long as you could get the jokes.

I hope all my fellow BarnCampers had as good a weekend as I did and once again my thanks go out to the good folk at Highbury Farm for their friendliness and hospitality. See you at the next one! :)

Originally posted on the author’s own blog.

Ford using Ubuntu in its driverless car

La Mirada del Replicante reports that Ford is signing up for the revolution in driverless cars and there’s no-one better in whose company to do so than Tux and one of the most popular GNU/Linux distributions – Ubuntu.

It has therefore launched a development plan for the next 5 years in which it plans to achieve a higher level of connectivity in its next models and to improve the capabilities of detection and automatic driving technology.

image of driverless car powered by Ubuntu
Look no hands! Ubuntu in the driving seat

Ford’s press release does not tell us what the hell the Ubuntu laptop connected to the car is doing, but it seems to be heavily involved in the autonomous driving system and the sensors entrusted with avoiding a possible collision.

This is not the only car with Ubuntu; we recently saw some Tesla electric cars hacked by Bosch which also showed the characteristic Unity interface favoured by Ubuntu.

In another vein, it will be interesting to see how these autonomous vehicles resolve certain ethical questions, such as having to choose at a certain time between sacrificing their driver by colliding with a tree or wiping out half a dozen innocent persons.

We shall see if that dilemma causes a kernel panic!

Bulgaria releases first open data sets

Joinup, the EU’s public sector open source news site, reports that Bulgaria has just published the first datasets on its open data portal. Some 36 datasets from 26 public sector organisations have now been made available online.

Furthermore, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers has also established a dedicated team to overcome public sector resistance to releasing public sector data as open data and help them to extract and cleanse the data from the databases. The ambition is to publish another 100 datasets before the end of 2015.

Some of the public agencies that have provided datasets for the portal are:

  • Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre* (AGCC), part of the Ministry of Regional Development & Public Works;
  • Bulgarian National Metrology Institute;
  • the Bulgarian Post Office;
  • the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad;
  • the Executive Environment Agency (EEA), part of the Ministry of Environment & Water;
  • the Ministry of Economy;
  • the Council of Ministers;
  • the Bulgarian National Statistical Institute; and
  • the National Revenue Agency, part of the Ministry of Finance.
  • Screenshot of Bulgarian government's open data site
    Screenshot of Bulgarian government’s open data site.

    The establishing of the Bulgarian open data portal was announced in September 2014. It was originally launched by the Foundation. The portal is built on the popular CKAN (Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network) open data platform, which is available as open source software under the Affero GPL licence.

    * = The Cadastre is the equivalent of the Land Registry in the UK.

OpenMandriva’s next release to pay homage to its Mandrake heritage

The sad news arrived earlier this week that French Linux gurus Madriva were being wound up (news passim).

One of its community spin-offs, OpenMandriva, has now announced that its next release will be a tribute to its Mandrake heritage.

OpenMandriva’s history is well known. It was born at the end of 2012 with the help of the community and Mandriva SA to continue the work on the distribution after Mandriva SA could not continue to do so.


OpenMandriva has expressed its thanks to Mandriva SA for the latter’s initial support and it has wished former Mandriva employees well for the future.

The OpenMandriva Association was created to unite the distribution formerly known as Mandriva (aka Mandrake) and to return it to its roots through listening to peoples needs and getting closer to its users and developers. Since then OpenMandriva has been independent (though it still remains open to cooperative effort). It will continue to do this and will be releasing a new release of OpenMandriva Lx 3 (2015) in the near future that will include new features and an update of many of the core components.

OpenMandriva states that Mandrake was the first Linux distribution to make a free operating system available which could be installed and configured by anyone who could use a keyboard and a mouse. When many people first entered the “Linux” world, there were two types of distro: the ones that gave you headaches as soon as you put the CD in the drive; and Mandrake. The vision of Mandrake’s founder Gaël Duval created an operating system which undoubtedly allowed many, many people access to modern technology and in doing so added greatly to the strength of the free software community.

LibreOffice Viewer for Android released

The Document Foundation, the organisation behind LibreOffice, the most popular free and open source office suite, has announced the release of a native application for viewing ODF documents on Android devices.

The app can be installed from the Google Play Store, whilst direct download of the APK will be made available at

LibreOffice Viewer also offers basic editing capabilities, like modifying words in existing paragraphs and changing font styles such as bold and italics.

LibreOffice Viewer screenshotEditing is still an experimental feature which has to be enabled separately in the settings, and is not stable enough for mission critical tasks. Full-blown editing will be enabled in the future with
the help of LibreOffice’s steadily growing developer community. The editing features provided in the current release have been developed thanks to donations to The Document Foundation.

Feedback and bug reports for the app are very welcome to help developers improve its quality en route to a fully-fledged editor. Users are invited to report problems, using the bug tracker and attaching files that have triggered the issue at

LibreOffice Viewer uses the same engine as LibreOffice for Linux, OS X and Windows. This, combined with a new front-end based on Firefox for Android, reads documents similarly to a desktop version of LibreOffice.

LibreOffice Viewer has been developed by Collabora and Igalia, backed by Smoose, with contributions from Google Summer of Code students, together with The Document Foundation and the LibreOffice community. SUSE provided a key foundation of cross-platform support, whilst the Mozilla Corporation – makers of Firefox – made several core components available.

Reposted from the author’s own blog.

Don’t let the Snoopers’ Charter bounce back

online surveillance imageIn the Queen’s Speech the Government announced it’s going to introduce an Investigatory Powers Bill (news passim). This is the new Snoopers’ Charter and will more than likely comprise even greater powers for the police and GCHQ to spy on British citizens. (Will the Government’s longer term aim of a British Bill of Rights comprise the right to be spied upon by the State? Ed.)

This is the fifth time a UK Government has tried to bring in a Snoopers’ Charter. The Home Office wants to give the police and intelligence services even more powers to look at what Brits do and who they talk to.

Do Britons really want to live in a country where all their communications are monitored by the State?

Precise details of the Home Office’s plans but there might be an attack on the encryption technology that helps keep our emails and online banking and shopping secure.

The police and intelligence services should concentrate on targeting people suspected of crimes instead of collecting everyone’s data all of the time.

It’s unclear whether the Home Office’s collect-it-all approach is effective or giving taxpayers value for money. The perpetrators of heinous crimes like the murder of Lee Rigby and the Charlie Hebdo attack were already known to the British and French intelligence services respectively, but those services decided to stop monitoring them due to lack of resources.

ORG logoOur friends over at the Open Rights Group (ORG) have set up a petition to campaign against the revived Snoopers’ Charter.

The text of the petition reads:

We demand an end to indiscriminate retention, collection and analysis of everyone’s Internet communications, regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime.

We want the police and intelligence agencies to have powers that are effective and genuinely protect our privacy and freedom of speech.

Sign the petition.

The ORG will also be organising a lobby day soon so supporters can go to Parliament, get a briefing about the Bill and then talk to their MPs.

The return of the Snoopers’ Charter

Like a boomerang curry, the Snoopers’ Charter (news passim) is back – and with a vengeance this time.

image of Home Secretary Theresa May
Home Secretary Theresa May, the woman who wants her minions to read everyone’s emails
Wired UK reports that this morning’s Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s legislative programme for the next year. In her speech in the House of Lords, the Queen said new legislation would “modernise the law on communications data.”

The new legislation will be known as the Investigatory Powers Bill and will not only cover everything included in the previously-blocked charter, but also allow security services to intercept the content of communications in bulk.

The Bill will allegedly “provide police and intelligence agencies with the tools” to keep people safe, whilst changes will also be made to close “ongoing capability gaps” that the government believes prevent law enforcement and intelligence services from tackling terrorism and serious crime. The new bill would also introduce “appropriate oversight and safeguard arrangements.” The latter are long overdue.

Goodbye Mandriva

Things were never easy for Mandriva, which was founded in 1999 as MandrakeSoft: with Mandrake Linux the company was originally aiming for a user-friendly desktop Linux. However, the major breakthrough for Linux on the desktop failed to appear and thus financial squeezes run like a strand through the company’s history in spite of the rapid expansion of the product portfolio for commercial solutions, German technology website heise reports.

Mandriva logo

The company did achieve a successful launch on the French stock market in 2001. However, MandrakeSoft had to apply for creditor protection only two years later. The company’s renaming as Mandriva took place in 2005 in the wake of the merger with Brazil’s Conectiva; Mandrake’s founder Gaël Duval left the company shortly afterwards due to a dispute.

There were financial problems once again in 2010 and Mandriva (at that time the company had over 70 employees) was looking for a buyer. Though an investor was eventually found, some 30 former Mandriva employees , developers and community members nevertheless founded the Mandriva fork Mageia at the end of that year. The fork was intended to ensure the continuity of Mandriva Linux since Mandriva’s commitment to its desktop Linux distribution had declined sharply. Insolvency loomed once again at the end of 2011, but was able to be repulsed ultimately with a recapitalisation.

The idea for OpenMandriva arose from the realisation that there was no money to be made with Linux for the desktop: an independent association was to continue producing Mandriva Linux as a community project. With Mageia and OpenMandriva there are now two community distributions, both of which have nevertheless lost some of their verve: the current Mageia 4 was released at the start of 2014; and OpenMandriva LX 2014.1 from September 2014. However, work is continuing on new versions of both distributions.

Mandriva is now in liquidation according to French company register Lawyer Frédérique Lévy has been appointed as the administrator. The and are no longer available.

Reposted from the author’s own blog.

Registration for Barncamp 2015 now open

Barncamp is a low-cost, rural DIY skills sharing event open to everyone, including UK activists, campaigners, people involved in social and community groups, and anybody else with an interest in technology and how to subvert it to put it to good use.

All skill levels are welcome and the organisers promise that workshops are not too geeky due to the infamous nerd gag implemented at every Barncamp

Barncamp was last held in 2013 (news passim). Once again we’ll be heading up the beautiful Wye Valley.

Barncamp 2015 publicity

BarnCamp 2015 is taking place on the 19th, 20th and 21st June and, as mentioned above, registration for Barncamp has now opened.

The event will cost £40 (on the gate) or £35 in advance (if you book and pay before 15th June 2015); concessions will be available upon request and via pre-booking.

The cost includes 4 nights’ camping and breakfast, lunch and dinner from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon included (9 meals). The food will be primarily vegan with some dairy as optional extras.

Details of this year’s workshops are also being finalised.

As usual, Bristol Wireless volunteers will be assisting in crewing Barncamp. How can we resist playing with technology in such stunning surroundings? :)

For news and updates about BarnCamp 2015 and other HacktionLab events, please sign-up to the low-traffic announcements mailing list.