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ESR Defends RMS, Google the Musical & MS Plays Bad

Friday FOSS Week in Review

Another typical week in the FOSS world. Mainly, the proprietary guys have been busy bad-mouthing the competition, while the FOSS folks have been busy finding solutions.

ESR Defends RMS on Jobs

This week I ran across a blog by Eric Raymond that was posted on October 8, in which Raymond defends the now infamous remarks made by Richard Stallman on his blog shortly after the death of Steve Jobs. I found this to me more than a little interesting, because Raymond and Stallman don’t always see eye to eye on FOSS issues. Indeed, he even manages to take a swipe at RMS while speaking in his defense:

“I’m not in doubt that this is what exercises Richard M. Stallman, as well. RMS, who is quite like Jobs was in that he’s brutally honest when he’s not mythologizing himself for marketing reasons, has caught a lot of flak for his unsparing take on Jobs’s legacy. Certainly RMS’s remarks were rude, intemperate, and ill-timed – so much so that one of his more prominent former supporters has called for forking the FSF as a result.

“But, though it’s often been my job in the past to be a peacemaker after RMS has made the open-source community look bad in public, I can’t disagree with the actual substance of what RMS wrote, and I won’t pretend to. Mike Daisey’s article, though written from a perspective well outside the open-source community’s, does a good job of explaining why I have to agree with RMS on this one.”

Raymond goes on to explain why, in his opinion, Jobs’ influence might be more disruptive to free software than Microsoft:

“Commerce is powerful, but culture is even more persistent. The lure of high profits from secrecy rent can slow down the long-term trend towards open source and user-controlled computing, but not really stop it. Jobs’s success at hypnotizing millions of people into a perverse love for the walled garden is more dangerous to freedom in the long term than Bill Gates’s efficient but brutal and unattractive corporatism. People feared and respected Microsoft, but they love and worship Apple – and that is precisely the problem, precisely the reason Jobs may in the end have done more harm than good.”

Put another way, the Microsoft approach creates a software prison that looks and feels like a prison. Jobs created something akin to the village in the 60’s TV show The Prisoner. Those old enough to have been around when the show aired might remember that the village was a pleasant enough environment. Enough so that a prisoner there might forget his or her status and spend a blissful lifetime with no possibility of parole.

Google Possibly Getting Set to Go Head-to-Head With iTunes

On October 13, The New York Times reported that Google is evidently in negotiations with record companies to beef up their anemic music service so it can compete with Amazon and Apple. So far, no one with Google or the record labels will comment, but The Times seems to think it’s a done deal:

“Google may be hoping to announce its store before Apple opens its latest cloud music program, iTunes Match, which was unveiled in June and is expected to be operational by the end of October. But it was unclear whether Google would be able to close the necessary deals with labels and music publishers in time to open a full-service store.

“Its earlier negotiations with music companies, for a so-called smart locker service — a Web storage system that lets people link their digital music collections to a vast central database — broke down over financial terms and the music companies’ complaints that Google was not doing enough to curb piracy.”

As a teenager back in the sixties I spent lots of hours in a seedy little record store filled with the aroma a cigarettes and cheap cigars, spending my allowance money on 45s. I watched as the local record stores gave way to sanitized chains like Peaches and, eventually, Blockbuster – and as grooves etched into vinyl gave way to CDs.

Although I’m a geek who runs Linux, operates servers and designs web sites, I’ve yet to download my first song. I’m one of those old farts who misses going to the record store. However, I wish Google well in their endeavor. If I ever do buy music online, I’d rather purchase from them than Amazon or Apple.

Upgrade LibreOffice to Avoid a Security Vulnerability

On October 5, LWN.net reported that a security vulnerability has been fixed in more recent versions LibreOffice:

“…The vulnerability sounds fairly serious: “This flaw could have been used for nefarious purposes, such as installing viruses, through a specially-crafted [.doc] file.” It was evidently fixed, silently, in versions 3.4.3 and 3.3.4 of LO, which were released in August…”

The problem was evidently found and fixed by the security folks at Red Hat. However, according to the same article, the folks at OpenOffice.org, might not have been immediately aware of the problem:

“One hopes that the press release is not the first time that the OOo community is hearing about the vulnerability, but that seems to be the case. When the press release was reported to the Apache OpenOffice (AOO) development mailing list, Dennis Hamilton indicated that it might be the first notice that AOO had received. But Simon Phipps quoted an unnamed LO developer who claimed to have alerted AOO…”

If OOo wasn’t notified of this security problem in a timely fashion, that would seem to indicate that something needs to be done to open communications between these two projects, especially on security issues. Even as they fork further away from each other, they will always have a code base with much in common.

FSF Goes to OEMs Over Secure Boot

If you’re a FOSSer, you doubtlessly already know about the brouhaha that’s been developing over Microsoft’s insistence that OEMs enable the Secure Boot function if Windows 8 is to be installed. The Free Software Foundation has relabeled the function as “Restricted Boot” because it might mean that no operating system other than Windows can ever be installed on a machine with the function enabled.

This week, the FSF began taking the case directly to the OEMs, and are asking software freedom lovers everywhere to sign a petition. According to Tuesday’s The Register:

“The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is urging PC users to sign a statement demanding that OEMs which implement Windows 8’s UEFI Secure Boot do so in a way that allows individuals to disable it, or that the PC makers provide a “sure-fire way” to install and run an operating system of the user’s choice.

“The statement says that giving this choice will protect users’ rights and security.

“The FSF has also hinted at a boycott on buying Windows 8 PCs. “We commit that we will neither purchase nor recommend computers that strip users of this critical freedom, and we will actively urge people in our communities to avoid such jailed systems,” the FSF concludes.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Garrett, the Red Hat employee who first raised the red flag about Secure Boot, posted yesterday on his personal blog about making a simple change to the Secure Boot implementation that would result in less draconian results:

“This proposal has been brought up with the UEFI standards working group, and with the UEFI plugfest taking place next week we’re hoping it’ll be discussed. It seems to satisfy the dual requirements of maintaining system security and ensuring that users have the flexibility to choose what they run on their system…”

Back when Garrett first brought the problem to light, I said it’d probably end up being no problem at all, that the folks at Red Hat and other Linux developers would get their heads together to keep this from becoming a game stopper. To me, it looks like this is still the case.

However, if you’re a FOSS supporter, I still urge you to sign the FSF petition. We free software users are an important part of the process of making sure this gets fixed, and our voices are all we need.

Microsoft Bashes Android

Ho-hum. According to appolicious, Steve Ballmer got into bully mode again this week to explain why Windows Phone 7 is superior in every way to any phone on the market right now. According to this report, Ballmer called Android “cheap and complex.”

“You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows phone,” he reportedly said. “And I think you do to use an Android phone!”

Yesterday, engadget reported that Redmond’s President of Windows Phone, Andy Lees, also got into some competition bashing in an interview with Ina Fried from AsiaD, implying that Android was mainly an OS for techies, while the MS offering is for the common people:

“‘Android is very techy,’ and that it’s a great OS for a certain population. He stated that Android hits you ‘with a grid of apps,’ instead of taking a ‘people approach,’ which WP7 presumably has.”

Unlike Ballmer, Lees didn’t confine himself to just putting down Android, but went after the iPhone as well:

“Moving on to more competitive questions (surrounding Siri, mostly), he affirmed that users can indeed talk to their Windows Phone handsets, but that the kind of implementation seen in Siri isn’t ‘super useful.’ He also — oddly, we must say — noted that WP7’s voice implementations rely on Bing, which harnesses ‘the full power of the internet, rather than a certain subset.’ Last we checked, Siri and Wolfram Alpha were connected to the internet, but we get his point — in theory, at least. He confirmed that speaking to one’s phone was practical in places like motorcars, but he seemed to imply that barking commands to a phone in public wasn’t something that Microsoft was inclined to ask its users to do.”

Microsoft, of course, is desperate to get some traction on mobile. According to an article released Thursday by Reuters, Windows sales are flat and they’re hoping that a good showing on smartphones and tablets will help them get their moxy back.

SharkCloud CEO Hits People Magazine

This week my friend Storm Williams, CEO of the open source start-up SharkCloud, was featured in People Magazine as part of their “Heroes Among Us” feature. He garnered the ink because of his work as founder and head honcho at Books for Soldiers, a non-profit that helps to get books and other items to soldiers overseas. If you’re interested, the write-up is in the October 24th edition on page 76.

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Well, that’s going to do it for this week. Have a nice weekend; I’ll see you on Monday. Until then, may the FOSS be with you…

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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