Software Freedom Day 2008

An event to mark the Software Freedom Day was organized by the Free Software Foundation and held in Boston over the weekend. I felt that a long drive was just what I needed to get my mind off the series of mini catastrophes that have been taking place at work during the week.

By the time I reached Chinatown, it was mid-day on Saturday and the event was nearly over. Helped myself to some GNU memorabilia, and briefly spoke with Mako before being distracted by Stallman’s voice singing the Free Software song.

GNU celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and a small 5-minute short of Stephen Fry endorsing Free Software was screened. Happy birthday GNU, and many more!

Some photos from the event can be found here.

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On OpenSolaris

In a recent article, Ted T’so makes some interesting points on Sun’s motives behind OpenSolaris, and how it fares today in the FOSS ecosystem as a result.

“Fundamentally, Open Solaris has been released under a Open Source license, but it is not an Open Source development community.”

It’s quite sad that this is the case simply considering the enormous potential that OpenSolaris had back in 2005, and the opportunities for cross pollination with Linux had the licenses been compatible. Given some of killer features of the operating system, it’s quite a shame that it has not been able to rally the developer community that it deserves.

At this point, I think the only hope for OpenSolaris is GPLv3 and a truly open development process. Then for once, Linus’ kernel will have a strong contender and a raised bar on licensing grounds.

Nexenta (a project unaffiliated with Sun), and essentially a Debian distribution with an OpenSolaris kernel, has been a strong attempt at attracting developers. Debian is by far is the most developer friendly GNU/Linux distribution out there, with a mature and proven development model, and to build an OpenSolaris distribution with user land tools of Debian makes the most sense.

I’ve been a Solaris user since version 6, which I attempted to run (quite foolishly) on a 333MHz Pentium. The user experience was anything but smooth, but still ended up gaining a lot of respect for the platform. Only time can say whether the tide changes for OpenSolaris or whether it ends up relegating to the Minix boat.

Updated: 03 May – Corrections on Nexenta

Drama

In an unsurprising turn, SCO stocks plummet as a judge rules that Novell owns the UNIX copyrights, and not SCO as McBride would have you believe. Not that I really care about SCO stocks, I really don’t, it’s just nice to see people finally catching on to the SCO bluff. Redmond played it beautifully, or thought they did by financing the smear campaign that was SCO AND striking a deal with Novell to distribute Linux “coupons”, but will they find themselves outwitted by GPLv3 when/if Novell starts shipping GPLv3 code as part of the coupon deal? Now that is going to be very interesting to watch.

GPLv3 Launch

GPLv3 was launched on Friday (29) after close to eighteen months of public involvement in it’s drafting process. This has been an important milestone in the free software world as an upgrade to the GPL to address some of the more modern concerns have been a long time coming. I think Bruce Perens sums this up well when he said:

“When the GPLv2 and GPLv1 were written, we got music from phonograph records,” he says. “The most complicated input device people had in their homes was a touch-tone telephone. The only thing that was even close to digital rights management were these dongles you’d hang on the back of your computer that would authorize you to run software — digital rights management didn’t even really exist.”

You can read the rest of the Wired article — here.

I was at the Free Software Foundation with a couple of my mates and you can find some of the photographs, here. RMS made the announcement in a room rigged with audio equipment, so everyone was really quiet. In a room where the dropping of a pin could be heard, the shutter release of my DSLR came like claps of thunder. So I resorted to just watch the whole thing rather than draw the wrath of the assembled mob of free software types.

GPLv3 has finally taken flight. It’ll be a lot of work to re-license all the GNU tools under GPLv3 but the process has already begun. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens.

Update (14 July): The announcement from RMS.

Sahana receives FSF award

I attended the 2007 FSF members meeting today – codenamed “Year of the upgrade”.

–snip–

09:15-10:00 Breakfast, registration, and pgp key signing
10:00-10:25 Peter Brown, Executive Director – “Libre Planet”
10:25-10:50 John Sullivan, Program Administrator -“BadVista and the Campaign for Free Software Adoption”
10:50-11:05 Justin Baugh, Senior System Administrator – “Hardware Free from Restrictions”
11:05-11:20 Joshua Ginsberg, Senior System Administrator – “FSF Systems Administration”
11:20-11:35 Break
11:35-12:10 Brett Smith, Licensing Engineer – “Compliance and GPLv3”
12:10-12:50 Richard Stallman, President – “Software Patents”
12:50-13:50 Lunch and mini-rockbox installfast
13:50-14:40 Gerald Sussman, Director – “Robust Design”
14:40-15:20 Eben Moglen, General Counsel – “After GPLv3”
15:20-16:00 Board members panel and Q&A – “Year of the Upgrade”
16:00-16:15 Break
16:15-17:30 Members Forum – including a presentation by Mako Hill on “Defining Free Culture”
17:30-17:50 Free Software Awards Ceremony

–snip–

Four members from the Sahana team (Chamindra, Pradeeper, Mifan and Ravindra) were present at the meeting to receive the Free Software award for Project of Social Benefit!! This is a truly great achievement, kudos to you all!

Just as I expected, I bumped into Niibe this year as well, and we caught up on some of the Debian work that I’ve been doing with him. Niibe is my mentor at Debian and has been helping me immensely to get my packages into Debian.

Other notable attendees were Bruce Perens and Ted Ts’o.

I noticed Ted when he entered the room, towards the latter part of the event. It was only later that I found out that he was to receive the FSF Award for the Advancement of Free software. I didn’t expect to see any high profile kernel hackers as himself at FSF events although there was one attendee who was the splitting image of Alan Cox, but a little poking round revealed that to be a false lead.

The presentation by Mako Hill on “Defining Free Culture” was quite informative on some of the good work he’s been upto lately. Eben Moglen‘s oratory was impressive as always and Gerald Sussman confounded the audience with some deep mathematics. RMS spoke on software patents.

Some photos from the event are available on my flickr.

Past events: FSF Members Meeting, 2006