Software Freedom, Utility and Maintenance Time

Whilst many may long for a truly open source OS that meets all of their needs, the reality has always been that compromise has a role to play whenever it comes to picking your operating system. Despite the availability and increasing ease of installation of purer open source systems, there remains a trade-off to be made. Systems with a high level of software freedom and an intuitively usable interface seem to require high levels of maintenance to keep them alive. Where a system with high software freedom’s been designed to require less maintenance, the usability seems to suffer. Of course, this triangle has a third point to it too: where a system is both easy to use and maintaining it doesn’t consume too much of your time, it’s software freedom that takes the hit.

What sort of system you choose should depend on which of those three factors you prioritise. Read the details about this theory, along with some pointers for recognising systems that value software freedom in Simon’s InfoWorld Article.

How To Safeguard Surveillance Laws

Simon Phipps:

Here’s my letter to the Evening Standard yesterday, where I explain the problem with surveillance laws and how to minimise their harm (in 200 words as required by their letters editor)

Originally posted on Wild Webmink:

This letter was published in the London Evening Standard on January 12th, 2015:

I watch with alarm as, in the wake of the barbaric murders in France, politicians seek increased surveillance powers for the security services.

Surveillance is not always wrong; far from it, our democracy has long allowed accountable public servants to temporarily intrude on individuals they believe to be a threat.

My alarm arises for two reasons:

  • The powers requested in recent attempts at new law are open-ended and ill-defined. They lack meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability. They appear designed to permit the security services free rein in making their own rules and retrospectively justifying their actions.
  • The breadth of data gathered – far beyond the pursuit of individuals – creates a risk of future abuse, by both (inevitable) bad actors and people responding to future moral panic. Today’s justifications – where offered – make no accommodation for…

View original 66 more words

How should technologists respond to terrorism?

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris was a horrific crime. It has shocked the world and roused a great deal of public upset, outcry and anger.

Whilst it’s too late to prevent the tragic loss of life caused by the murderers, the office assault was the seed of another, ongoing attack, in which each of us is struggling, though we may be unaware of it.

Acts of terrorism provoke society into attacking itself. Justice and law making systems designed to protect and uphold our freedoms and rights are tricked into restricting and removing those self same rights and freedoms for everybody, in attempts to prevent future attacks and to placate the fierce public desire for action.

An understanding of the openness of the internet and the ways in which we benefit from it gives technologists a unique insight into the value that society gains from remaining open. That’s why Simon’s used his InfoWorld response to the tragedy as an opportunity to call on readers from the technology industry to respond to terrorism by defending openness. Check out his full article on InfoWorld.

Any Revolution Can Be Repurposed

Simon Phipps:

A lesson from history.

Originally posted on Wild Webmink:

In fact this memorial to one — three days of killing in Paris over free speech and blasphemy — has been:

Liberty and Vigilance
The July Column in the Place de la Bastille in Paris – itself dedicated to the celebration of liberty after the French Revolution – was erected in memory of the fallen of the later July Revolution of 1830. It’s not too far from the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

The July Revolution comprised three days of fighting in Paris, primarily on free speech grounds against state censorship. Charles X, France’s last hereditary monarch, had imposed the death penalty for blasphemy against Christianity. He also suspended the liberty of the press and dissolved the newly elected Chamber of Deputies.

Today, the column is used as a platform for surveillance cameras. We must be on our guard against similar repurposing today.

View original

DLC 1: Hotel arrogance, the no-win laptop and more

Digital Life Clippings from week 1

  1. Marriott will ban shareable WiFi if the FCC don’t let them block itNYT – Their arrogance in attempting to protect their high-margin abuse of customers’ vulnerability knows no bounds; threatening the FCC is jaw-dropping.
    To carry out their threat to ban shareable WiFi, they would need to ban not only MiFis but also Windows, Mac and Linux laptops as well as almost all smartphones. They may think they have a right to break my internet if I won’t use their broken internet, but the “hospitality” they will need to show their “guests” will be deeply harmful.
    The bug is not that people want to use their own internet connections; it’s that Marriott think people should have to pay extra for a facility that’s become as fundamental to travellers as hot water or electric light. [Coverage]
  2. HP’s low-cost Windows laptop is not a Chromebook killerGigaOm – It’s a mistake to try to squeeze Windows into hardware designed for ChromeOS. You end up with a laptop that’s so under-powered it’s best for cloud-hosted applications (as the HP/Microsoft TV advertising in the UK implies). But you still have to maintain anti-malware software, apply updates, manage drivers, buy upgrades and so on.
    So you have bought yourself the functionality of a Chromebook but with the upkeep of Windows. Why on earth would anyone think that was a good deal?
  3. A Europe Of Treaties?Webmink – The UK is entering its election cycle and the political manipulators are trying to whip Britain’s closet xenophobes into an anti-European frenzy intended to justify Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. But what would be the alternative? Britain can’t up-anchor and sail to Florida. Opting out like that would simply mean discarding democratic engagement over the market conditions Britain depends on and instead seeking secretly-negotiated treaties.
  4. Samsung to use Tizen in TVsTizen Experts – Samsung’s embrace of Tizen continues, although this move to deploy it to TVs instead of phones may indicate someone has woken up to the need for a large and diverse developer ecosystem to make a platform succeed. All the same, the probem is on clear display in this insider article. This quote embodies the problem.

    Tizen TV is expected to be running Tizen 3.0 based on Tizen Common at launch and the non Intellectual Property (IP) Source Code released shortly thereafter.

    Secret development, partial code availability, binaries before code; how could any meaningful collaborative community possible emerge in the absence of an existing diverse ecosystem?

Digital Life Clippings – New Year’s News

  1. Indian government blocks programming web sites, including archive.org and Github gists – TechCrunch – As if to illustrate why it’s bad to allow anyone the power to block web sites arbitrarily, the Indian government has blocked entire slices of web infrastructure because one of their functionaries found something about ISIS somewhere on it. More on the blog.
  2. Marriott wants to block your devices so you have to pay for their wifiBoing Boing – Marriott clearly does not want anyone from the technology industry to stay at their hotels or to use them for events. Best to respect their wishes and avoid them like the plague.
  3. End-user adoption of open source is a lousy metricRRW – Open source is primarily a collaboration technique, leveraging the permission-in-advance arising from software freedom to unlock innovation in many unrelated deployers. For many reasons, enterprise end-user deployment of unmodified open source software is thus a lousy metric for gauging the influence of open source.
  4. Perfect slapdown to a bogus takedownTechDirt – The monkey selfie is resoundingly in the public domain, your jurisdiction has no say in mine and my use is fair use. Otherwise, do you have any questions?
  5. If the Supreme Court tackles the NSA in 2015, it’ll be one of these five casesArs Technica — This is a great test for the separation of powers. US law very clearly needs an update for the meshed society and signalling it is a job for SCOTUS. I’m also interested to see if the court is willing to clarify the Third Party Doctrine. It seems obvious to me that if I have a relationship with a telco as a customer, that telco can’t truly be considered a “third party”.