Show Sidebar Log in

Protests planned for W3C meeting in Lisbon

no DRM logoNext week, demonstrators will gather at a meeting of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in Lisbon, Portugal to make the same demand as was made at the last major W3C meeting in March: stop streaming companies from inserting DRM into the HTML standard on which the Web is based.

The protest is being organised by two Portuguese organizations, ANSOL
(Associação Nacional para o Software Livre)
and AEL (Associação
Ensino Livre)
, which are active in the fields of free software and technological literacy. Those living near Lisbon and wanting to join the protest, can find details and contact information in the
organisers’ press release.

The Defective by Design campaign organised a similar protest at the W3C’s last meeting at MIT in March. In the week before that protest, Dutch activists held their own demonstration at the Amsterdam W3C office and a Brazilian Web expert met staff at the W3C office in São Paulo. The night of the MIT protest the W3C’s leadership released a factsheet to justify its involvement with DRM despite all the criticism.

Besides preventing people from sharing media, DRM often causes security vulnerabilities or files to disappear or become inaccessible. Users are treated as adversaries. Few outside the entertainment business like DRM and many agree it is ethically wrong. However, the W3C, which sets official Web standards, has allowed streaming video companies to work on a new, universal DRM system together with its blessing. The new system is called EME – Encrypted Media Extensions. Now Netflix, Microsoft, Google, and Apple want to hang their new EME on the existing infrastructure of the HTML standard, making it cheaper and easier to impose restrictions on users.

Although support for EME is limited to a few powerful companies, opposition is widespread. Defective by Design hopes that the W3C recognises this and accepts feedback from the actual people that use the Web, otherwise Defective by Design believes it has no right to claim it is setting Web standards in the public interest.

Commission wants to deploy thousands of wifi hotspots

As part of the strategy to create a single European digital market, the European Commission is preparing to invest €120 mn. to promote access to wireless connectivity in public places under the heading of Wifi4EU.

According to Le Monde Informatique, this could see up to 6,000 publicly accessible wifi access points deployed, whilst the Commission’s factsheet (PDF) reveals that the upper limit for deployments is 8,000 and the hardware provided will enable 40-50 million connections per day.

Who will benefit?

wifi4euWifi4EU access points aim to benefit both EU citizens and visitors to the Member States.

Other beneficiaries will include public administrations, hospitals, libraries and other bodies
with a public mission. The EU will fund the equipment and installation costs with vouchers, whilst public bodies will be responsible for paying the monthly subscription costs and keep the equipment in good order. These bodies will be able take advantage of the access points to develop and promote their own new digital services, such as e-government, e-health or e-tourism.

Who can apply?

Local communities will need to show that they commit to providing very high speed internet via Wifi4EU and show under state aid rules that they are not competing with a similar, existing private or public wifi provision since the initiative will help cover areas which otherwise would not offer such connectivity.

Furthermore, these free wifi hotspots are not the only levers of the Commission’s plan to increase the number of Europeans connected to the internet. In its project to reform telecommunications regulations, it is also planning to make high speed internet access a universal service obligation for telecommunications providers. It will be up to the governments of the Member States to ensure that people on low incomes or with special needs can access these services, perhaps by offering vouchers to cover the cost or requiring providers to give them a special rate.

The Wifi4EU scheme is intended to run until 2019.

Will Brexit vote hamper UK’s inclusion?

The European Commission’s office in London has been approached asking whether public bodies in the UK will be eligible to apply for this scheme in the wake of all the uncertainty following the UK’s advisory vote to leave the EU in the recent referendum. Any response will be published when it is received.

Update:The following reply to our queries about Wifi4EU and the definition of what constitutes a “public mission” has been received.

This initiative is a proposal for legislation, which has to go through the EU decision-making process before any funding/projects can be launched. It is not possible to say how long the process will take to formally adopt this initiative. As long as the UK remains a Member State of the EU eligibility to participate in EU programmes should remain possible.

The full text of the proposal can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/proposed-regulation-promotion-internet-connectivity-local-communities-and-public-spaces-wifi4eu

The proposal does not specifically define “public mission” , but the preamble states:

Support of this kind should encourage entities with a public mission such as public authorities and providers of public services to offer free local wireless connectivity as an ancillary service to their public mission….

Our colleagues responsible for Digital Single Market issues may be able give further details. The contact form can be found here:
https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/contact?ref=https%3A//ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/contact%3Fref%3Dhttps%253A//ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/proposed-regulation-promotion-internet-connectivity-local-communities-and-public-spaces-wifi4eu

OpenOffice recruits new developers

Speculation about the demise of Apache OpenOffice may be premature (news passim).

German IT news site heise reports that a mailing list for new developers has been set up.

By establishing this new list, the OpenOffice team wants to make entry to the open source project easier for programmers.

OpenOffice 4.0 menu
OpenOffice 4.0. Maybe it won’t be the end of the line.

After recent discussion of a possible end for the free and open source OpenOffice productivity suite, more developers who are interested in helping with future development have approached the project. The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has now established a recruitment mailing list to facilitate their access to the source code. Via the list, newcomers will receive answers to questions and suggestions about their next steps from more experienced developers.

Under a month to CiviCon London 2016

CiviCRM logoBilled asEurope’s biggest event for the leading third sector CRM“, it’s now less than a month until CiviCRM’s Civicon 2016 in London, which is being held on 6th and 7th October.

CiviCRM is the leading open source CRM for the voluntary and community sectors. CiviCon is now in its sixth year and the event is going from strength to strength as the community around it grows and finds new ways to help raise funds, communicate and manage organisations.

Alongside this year’s conference, the organisers are also arranging training sessions and a code sprint.

CiviCon, the training and the sprint are designed to welcome new people to the community, to bring them together to share, learn and work.

The conference itself will run from Thursday 6th October to Friday 7th October 2016, the training from Tuesday 4th October to Wednesday 5th October 2016 and the code sprint from Monday 10th October to Friday 14th October 2016 and registration is required.

The conference venue is Resource for London at 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA (map).

Finally, here’s some feedback from last year’s conference.

“Proprietary software threatens democracy”

Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda ended this year’s QtCon, free software community conference with a keynote speech on, inter alia, free software in the European public sector.

Julia Reda MEPMs Reda explained how proprietary software has often left regulators in the dark, becoming a liability for (and often a threat to) citizens’ health and well-being.

As an example Ms Red cited the recent Dieselgate scandal, in which motor manufacturers installed software that cheated instruments that measured emissions of pollutants in test environments, only to spew illegal amounts of toxic substances into the air when they were on the road.

Ms Reda also explained how medical devices running proprietary software posed a health hazard for patients, giving the example of a woman with a pacemaker who collapsed while climbing some stairs due to a software bug in her device. Doctors and technicians had no way of diagnosing and correcting
the problem as they did not have access to the code.

A further cause for concern is the threat posed to democracy by software with restrictive licences. The trend of replacing traditional voting ballots with voting machines is especially worrying, because, as these machines are not considered a threat to national security, their software also goes unaudited and cannot be audited in most instances.

Ms Reda remarked that although voting machines are built and programmed by private companies, they are commissioned by public bodies and bought with public money. However, there are no universal EU regulations that force companies, or, indeed, public organisations, to make the source code available to the citizens that have paid for it.

She further noted that, despite free software technologies (web servers, CMSs, email servers, etc.) being used extensively throughout the public sector, the latter assumes very little responsibility in the way of giving back to the community via
patches or bug reports.

Ms Reda commended the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) for
advocating that all software commissioned by public entities and paid with public money, be made available to all under free/libre licences. She also noted that it is essential to get governments to see the merits of free software to get them on side.

Goodbye to OpenOffice?

When your ‘umble scribe first started using the GNU/Linux operating system over a decade ago, the default office suite for most Linux distributions was OpenOffice.

However, it now looks as if OpenOffice just could be heading towards the software graveyard if other members of the development team concur with an email from the chairman of the OpenOffice Project Management Committee, Dennis Hamilton, as reported by LWN.net.

OpenOffice 4.0 menu
OpenOffice 4.0. The end of the line?

A long history

To find the earliest origins of OpenOffice, one has to go back nearly 30 years to 1985 and an early office suite called Star Office. The timeline below shows the genesis of OpenOffice and other packages from StarOffice 1.0. StarOffice itself survived as a proprietary software package until discontinued by Oracle in 2011.

Timeline showing Open Office and other derivatives of StarOffice
Timeline showing Open Office and other derivatives of StarOffice. Click on image for the full-sized version. Timeline courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

To understand the various twists in the OpenOffice story, one also needs to know that StarDivision, the creator of StarOffice, was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999, whilst Sun Microsystems was in its turn taken over by Oracle Corporation in 2010.

After the 1999 takeover of StarDivision, Sun released a free and open source version of StarOffice as OpenOffice.org under both GNU LGPL and the SISSL (Sun Industry Standards Source License). OpenOffice.org supported proprietary Microsoft Office file formats (though not always perfectly), was available on many platforms (Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Solaris) and became widely used in the open source community. OpenOffice.org had native support for the OpenDocument format (ODF).

Following Oracle’s takeover of Sun Microsystems in 2010, some members of the OpenOffice.org project became worried about its future with Oracle. As a consequence they formed The Document Foundation and created the LibreOffice fork. The LibreOffice brand was hoped to be provisional, as Oracle had been invited to join The Document Foundation and donate the OpenOffice.org brand to the foundation.

Oracle’s response was to demand that all members of the OpenOffice.org Community Council involved with The Document Foundation step down from the Council, citing a conflict of interest. This prompted many community members decided to leave for LibreOffice, which already had the support of Red Hat, Novell, Google and Canonical. LibreOffice produced its first release in January 2011.

In June 2011 Oracle donated the OpenOffice.org trade marks and source code to the Apache Software Foundation, which Apache then re-licensed under its own open source licence. IBM donated the Lotus Symphony codebase to the Apache Software Foundation in 2012. The developer pool for the Apache project was seeded by IBM employees and the Symphony codebase was incorporated into Apache OpenOffice.

However, Apache OpenOffice has not flourished, whilst LibreOffice has gone from strength to strength, OpenOffice has languished. LibreOffice releases updates every few months, whereas the last major update to Apache OpenOffice was in September 2015. Furthermore, a hotfix released at the end of August to remedy a memory problem has still not been announced by the project on its home page.

Apache applies pressure

In the meantime the Apache Software Foundation has been applying increasing pressure due to security concerns and has since demanded monthly reports (instead of the previous quarterly reports. Ed.) as to how problems can be solved.

In his email Hamilton describes in detail what the retirement of the OpenOffice project could look like and what consequences will be involved for the source code, downloads, website, mailing lists and other matters. For the time being Hamilton only wants to start a discussion. A decision to end the OpenOffice project has still not been taken, although it is already being suggested that the project should consider donating the OpenOffice trade mark registration to the LibreOffice project.

Originally posted on the author’s personal blog.

IoT comes to Bristol Wireless

This afternoon, our members Nigel Legg and Benedict Gaster turned up at the lab with the piece of hardware shown below that’s going to be tested on the Bristol Wireless network.

IoT gateway
IoT gateway

It’s an IoT gateway configured under LoRaWAN, a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) specification, that’s fully open source. Not only is it open source, but Benedict built it at home from components that are easily available and not at all expensive.

Once it’s up and running, the gateway will connect to the Things Network.

It’s believed that by deploying this gateway, we’ve actually beaten the top-down, proprietary approach adopted by Bristol is Open (news passim) in having the first working IoT gateway in Bristol (if we’re wrong, let us know in the comments below. Ed.).

The boys have now returned from the top of a tower block and informed your ‘umble scribe the gateway is working.

We’ll keep you posted on developments.

Labour commits to open source

Labour leader Jeremy CorbynYesterday the Labour Party’s digital democracy manifesto (PDF) was launched by embattled party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, The Register reports.

For ordinary citizens perhaps the most significant feature is its universal service commitment.

We will deliver high speed broadband and mobile connectivity for every household, company and organisation in Britain from the inner city neighbourhoods to the remotest rural community. The National Investment Bank will fund the public sector backbone of this vital infrastructure project, regional banks will support local access cooperatives and Ofcom will coordinate the private telecoms companies’ contribution to its realisation. Because ubiquitous access to digital networks is now a prerequisite of 21st century life and business, we will ensure that high speed broadband and mobile connectivity is available at the same low price without any data transfer cap across the whole country.

That definitely sounds better than the present government’s commitment to a universal 10 Mbps broadband service (news passim), although how good such a commitment is will ultimately depend on the party’s definition of what constitutes “high speed“.

Mr Corbyn pledged a “bill of rights” for internet users who would be entitled to a “digital citizen passport” which would ostensibly provide a secure and portable identity for their online and data activities.

The previous Labour government tried to introduce identity cards to the UK – something it has previously only imposed during wartime. It ultimately dropped that idea after major public outcry. Will the new “digital citizen passport” be an online version of the ID card? I think we should be told, to echo the cry of Private Eye down the decades.

A further interesting aspect of the digital agenda comes under the heading of “Programming for All“, i.e.

We will encourage publicly funded software and hardware to be released under an Open Source licence. Where possible, government agencies will upgrade their computers and networks with these improved versions of democratic programming. The National Education Service will enthuse both children and adults to learn how to write software and to build hardware. Public bodies will financially reward staff technicians who significantly contribute to Open Source projects. We will host official events which celebrate the achievements of both the professional and hobbyist designers of the networked future.

This would bring the UK public sector into line with the United States, where the Obama administration has been actively promoting the use of open source software (such as Drupal for the White House website. Ed.) and recently released its federal source code policy (news passim).

Other ideas that sound attractive at the launch of the digital agenda were:

  • a clamp-down on “unwarranted snooping” via CCTV;
  • consultation on online voting for elections;
  • a commitment to open publishing for academic research papers, as reported by The Canary.

Of course, it must remembered that politicians’ promises are more often than not like pie-crust and to implement his digital manifesto Mr Corbyn still faces twin obstacles of surviving the current challenge to his leadership of the party and then winning the next election – whenever that happens to be.

Uganda develops FOSS strategy

Web Africa reports that Uganda’s ICT Ministry has recently developed a free and open source software (FOSS) policy.

The aim of the policy is to regulate the deployment of open source software and use of open standards to accelerate innovation and develop local content.

Commenting on the use of FOSS, Frank Tumwebaze, Uganda’s Minister of ICT and National Guidance in Uganda declared the following:

Free and open software services will help my ministry to innovate better because it forms the platform (for) many of the innovative ideas. Free and open source software in Uganda is certainly something we have been talking about and I am sure we will do so even more in the next few days. Some of the things Uganda has put in place to harness the benefit from free and open source software include a Software Strategy and Policy in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development’s (UNCTAD) Trade, Services and Development expert meeting’s determination that free and open source software is an inseparable component of the global technology ecosystem.

The Minister also remarked that FOSS also presents an opportunity to develop the software industry in Uganda, which is in its infancy.

Furthermore, FOSS was recognised earlier this week for its contribution to innovation at the 7th African Conference on Free & Open Source Software held in Kampala with the theme of “Open Source Solutions for Open Government & Open Data in Africa”. The conference attracted over 500 delegates from academia, policy makers, software developers, innovators, open source activists, researchers, investors and ICT practitioners from all over the African continent and other parts of the world.

Happy 25th birthday Linux

Twenty-five years ago today, 25th August, an unknown Finnish computer science student called Linus Torvalds wrote the following email to the comp.os.minix mailing list.

Hello everybody out there using minix –

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I’ve currently ported bash (1.08) and gcc (1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them 🙂

Linus (torv…@kruuna.helsinki.fi)

PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

Today Linus Torvalds is somewhat better known, having won a raft of awards, and works as a software develope. However, Linus is still involved with developing a free operating system and is the chief maintainer of its kernel.

Tux - mascot of the Linux kernelThat free operating system has come to be known in full as GNU/Linux and just Linux by most people. GNU/Linux is available in hundreds – if not more – distinct variants which are running everything from supercomputers and web servers to desktop machines and small devices running on embedded systems.

Happy birthday Linux! 🙂