GNU+Linux Naming Controversy Similar to Big Ben?

Nathan Baum posted this excellent metaphor for the practical sense-making reason for calling the GNU+Linux system “GNU+Linux” or “GNU/Linux” instead of “Linux,” which is common but incorrect, to a recent discussion of mine over the GNU+Linux Naming Controversy on the Dorset Linux User Group mailing list.

Well, whether I like it or not, “Linux” is the name associated with the operating system in the public eye (to the extent that the public have heard of either Linux or GNU). But that doesn’t mean, IMO, that it must always be called “Linux” in formal contexts. What most people think of as “Big Ben” is actually only one of the bells in “The Clock Tower”. This is quite similar to the situation with GNU/Linux. The clock tower is, in the public’s mind, named after an important part of the clock tower. As with GNU/Linux, it would actually be possible to replace Big Ben with another bell and although it might sound a little different, it would still keep the time perfectly well. In fact, the original Big Ben was discarded because it was broken; this mirrors the situation with Hurd, except, of course, that people are still fixing up Hurd. It’s not considered bad form to informally refer to The Clock Tower as Big Ben. When speaking technically about the Palace of Westminster (which, I suppose, one might analogise with the mass of software built around the GNU/Linux operating system), however, it would usually be better to call it The Clock Tower. Out of a formal context, The Clock Tower might be vague and confusing. I typically refer to it as The Big Ben Tower, if I feel a lone Big Ben is inappropriate. This clarifies to those aware of the difference that I’m refering to the tower, and those who only know the tower as Big Ben will still know what I’m talking about: this practice is similar to refering to GNU, even in contexts where the kernel is unimportant, as GNU/Linux.

I also wrote a reply to John Cooper on this issue:

Without Linus Torvalds there wouldn’t be the current operating system.
I found an interesting quote on this topic: “[Linus Torvalds is] basically a very lazy person who likes to get credit for things other people actually do.” - Linus Torvalds Are you aware of the Bitkeeper fiasco? Details are in an ICPUG article and a Wikipedia article on Bitkeeper This event demonstrated that Linus Torvalds is not interested in using Free Software to write the kernel, because he himself it not particularly interested in version control. He is interested in kernels, and prefers a Free Software kernel, but only values software freedom under limited circumstances where it affects him personally. Therefore “[The Open Source Movement] would never have developed a free operating system like GNU/Linux, because they don’t particularly feel it is important to have one. The reason GNU/Linux exists as a free operating system is because of people who do care.” - Richard Stallman The GNU Project is a determined, sustained effort to create a free operating system. That is the only reason you had, have and will continue to have a complete GNU/Linux system.

GPLv3 Comments regarding Fonts

I’ve just made 2 more comments on the GPLv3, after reading Richard and Ciaran’s transcripts of the GPLv3 conference in Tokyo last week.

The first was regarding “Artistic Integrity”:

Can ‘artistic integrity’ be protected while maintaining software freedom, like the SIL Open Font License does? Since GPL compatibility is useful since most existing Free Fonts are under the GPL, this could make GPLv3 FontAddition the best license for the new but emerging Free Font Movement! I wrote about this in a long and reflective way on my blog and the comment from a Free Culture artist nicely defined what I mean by ‘artistic integrity.’ To ensure there is no confusion, the SIL OFL uses a list of reserved names. This requirement has been deemed “Free” by the FSF already, and other important community organisations, as described on the Go For OFL! page Perhaps this could be included as a permitted additional requirement?

I also made a less controversial comment on font embedding:

Font embedding clarification
“When using the GPL for a font, what happens to documents that use the font? As far as I know, there is no problem using GPL version 2 or 3 for fonts. Now, you might want to state explicitly that you don’t regard documents that have text in the font as being linked with the font, and let those documents be licenced in any way people wish. You could put an exception, an additional permission on the font, saying that you don’t insist on anything about the licensing of documents which use the font.”
- RMS Could such an additional permission be included as standard in GPLv3? Perhaps more generally, writing example/recommended Additional Terms, such as for font embedding, could be included in the license text itself, or at least a link to a FSF website that will be short and able to stand the test of time.

Is Digital Data of Dubious Permanence?

I met a traveller from an antique land Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things, The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kigs: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains: round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I heard on the Typo-L list today that digital data is of dubious permanence.

I think it just works in a very different way to the permanence of physical things. Like all physical things, especially ones made of plastic, CDs deteritorate as they age. They have a much shorter life expectancy than books. (This is more true for ‘CD-R’ CDs, the ones you can copy data onto on your home computer, than for ‘Real CDs’ that are mass produced.

But digital data is more permanent than a book.

Its unintuitive, so I’ll explain:

At the machine level, at a rate today of millions of times a second, a computer processor copies 1s and 0s in from computer memory, and modifies them, and copies them out again.

At the human level, this is like loading a file, changing it, and saving it.

This core thingness, copying and modifying, is what computers do.

Computer networks, like the Internet, allow computers to copy and modify information from other computers.

Information like what a book looks like can be digitised with a scanner. Once one networked computer has a digital copy of a page, every single other computer on the network can, in almost no time and at almost zero cost, also have a copy.

“Try to pull something ‘off the web’ and you will soon realize that you wont be able to do it. Everything you write and publish will defy eternity, carved in electrons: the very moment you put something on the web, someone, somewhere, will make a copy out of it. It is bound to reappear, somewhere sometime: indestructible and redoutable powers of the void.”

So what does this mean for backup of your personal data, which you obviously don’t publish on the web and try to distribute to anyone who cares to look at it, right?

When you make a copy of personal data for backup purposes, the reason is not to make an archive - but that’s a common, mistaken, belief.

The real reason for burning off data onto a CD is that if your computer melts in a housefire, or you accidentally delete some important files, or the laptop is stolen - its almost never a virus or malware that destroys data - you still have a copy.

CDs and now DVDs are commonly believed to be the cheapest way to make a copy of your private data.

This isn’t actually true, though.

The cheapest and most secure way is to get a website account with plenty of storage space, like DreamHost, and copy all of your data over your internet connection to that website account, but ensure it is not accessible by anyone through the web. Often website hosts have a ‘web’ directory to upload files into so they will be publically available, and anything not in that folder will only be accessible from your FTP account.

There are websites that provide purely private accounts - like StrongSpace - that claim to do extra backup work at their end, so the likelyhood of you and them losing your data at the same time is really, really, really small.

Its no extra effort and a good idea to ensure this account is on a server on another continent, so a Tsunami or Katrina won’t smash all the copies.

The next cheapest way is to buy an external harddisk that connects using USB, and copy everything to that. Then, when the house is burning down, you can grab the harddisk and scarper :-) Or better yet, keep it at your neighbours house incase of theft.

If you do all 3 of these cheaper and easier things, plus make CD/DVD copies, you are most unlikely to not have at least one copy available to you, ever.

But information stored on paper is of much more dubious permanence, since its impossible for you to make 3 copies and distribute them round the house, street and country.

If its mass produced paper information, like a book, you can always buy another one - but for personal records, this is not the case. In the case of a highly specialised book, that will be of greater significance to its owner than any old pulp novel, what a personal record is becomes blurry, of course :-)

There is also “bit rot”.

Even if you take up all the recommended backup habits, in 20 years time, the file formats may have become unreadable.

For example, if you get an authorised copy of a Orange Computers’ proprietary “OrangeWorks 3” in 1987, and 20 years later, today, you want to open that file, you may find yourself out of luck.

This is why “Free File Formats” are so important, along with Free Software applications to make use of those files.

Of course, you can use an emulator to run a virtual Orange Computer, and an unauthorised copy or the 1987 version of OrangeWorks, because in 1987 there was no ‘copy protection’ locks to prevent unauthorised sharing (if you’re lucky). Today, this is less likely - even Adobe, who avoided locks for many years recently starting including them - and in 20 years, if you’re not starting to use Free File Formats, you’ll have real problems with ‘bit rot.’

A book is a lovely thing to have, but a digital copy of the information is also important so that its easy to search the book once you’ve read it. This increases the value of the book, because it more likely to fly off the shelf once its settled there. Google Books makes the indexed books more valuable.

Why using 100% Free Software is important

“Why should we have a 100% Free Operating System? Isn’t being almost all Free apart from some firmware and low level drivers enough?”

A GNU/Linux distribution that includes firmware is more closely aligned with Open Source than Free Software, because the Open Source philosophy values features and convenience above freedom - and will tolerate non-free software mixed with free software.

The Free Software Movement seeks to end the unethical and unsustainable practice of non-free software. Afterall, this determination to have a 100% Free Software system is why the GNU/Linux operating system exists in the first place.

History shows that if you do not value and defend freedom, you will lose it.

This is also why its important to call the whole system “GNU/Linux”, to remember the origins and purpose of the system in the GNU Project.

I discussed this recently on my local Dorset Linux User Group mailing list. I was told that I was thinking too deeply about the issue, and that non-free drivers and firmware was strategic because only a popular system can have the influence to be supported in our business-centered society.

But this sounds like “the ends justifies the means,” which just isn’t so. I hope to explain this in full in a later post.

This issue connects deeply with the GNU/Linux naming controversy, and the Free Software versus Open Source Software Debate because:

“[The Open Source Movement] would never have developed a free operating system like GNU/Linux, because they don’t particularly feel it is important to have one. The reason GNU/Linux exists as a free operating system is because of people who do care.”

How to Install GNU/Linux from Windows

Instlux is a Windows application that allows you to start a GNU/Linux installation by downloading and running this small program, which reboots the computer into an installation system for one of several distributions, and then removes itself when you next use Windows.

I chose my current laptop, an IBM X31, because IBM are a large supporter of Free Software and their hardware tends to work well with free software drivers (Although they have not supported the Free BIOS campaign…) This laptop has no CD or DVD drive, so installing GNU/Linux in the usual way is not possible.

Instlux was just the thing!

I’ve just seen that it a funding drive on at the moment, which I’ve donated to.

This was with some reservations though, as the drive is to fund an Instlux for the latest version of Ubuntu.

While gNewSense is a version of Ubuntu 6.06 with all non-free software removed, it lacks the polish of Fedora, which only ships non-free firmware as part of the Linux kernel. I’m also concerned about the sustainability of a distribution with only 2 developers, but I am contributing to the Artwork team to improve this situation.

Until this is resolved, I’m happiest recommending Fedora.

As part of my donation, I wrote this to the Instlux developer:

Hi, I would love to see a Fedora Instlux instead of an Ubuntu 6.10 because 6.06 can be upgraded seamlessly to 6.10 if required, and 6.06 is the ‘stable’ version. I’ll donate $100 to a Fedora Instlux fund if/when one happens. I’m about to donate $5 to say thanks for the Ubuntu 6.06 Instlux I’ve used on this IBM X31 which has no CD/DVD drive. However, Ubuntu ships many proprietary, non-free, closed source components and even applications such as Opera and Realplayer. I believe that the ends does not justify the means, so I can no longer support Ubuntu. Many thanks and kind regards, Dave Crossland

Free Software lecture at Highcliffe Computer Club

A few weeks ago, Peter Young from the Highcliffe Computer Club posted a message on the Dorset Linux User Group mailing list asking if anyone would be able to give a lecture in the afternoon about Free Software. I volunteered, and visited last week to check out the Club and sit in on a discussion meeting about “Broadband Versus Dialup”. I came away really impressed by the club, they have a really nice community there, and that’s what Free Software is all about!

So today I had the pleasure of presenting a two hour lecture to the Highcliffe Computer Club on Free Software.

I spoke about software freedom, why it matters, why its good for business, great for schools, the history of the GNU Project, and demonstrated the most popular Free Software applications such as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, and Inkscape.

It was well received, and I really enjoyed doing it, but I’m aware of a few things I’ll try to improve next time that will all come with practice, I’m sure.

Although, for not covering all of the material, that wasn’t just my blabber-mouth ;-) For the second part of the lecture the chairman Ken Fluck had set up a desktop machine and asked me to demonstrate installing Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper from the Live CD he provided. This was totally improvised, and a great challenge to do it off the cuff, but very fun. I explained how a Live CD works, and then partitioning. During this the xscreensaver came on (I’d turned my laptop’s off) and that was really well received, which I’d never have guessed - next time I’ll leave my screensaver on :-)

It seems many people in the audience had already tried one mainstream distrubution or another, but all had problems with the installation procedure - not just partitioning, things like kernel-APIC problems halting the LiveCD boot process and so on.

There were some great questions from the club too, such as how to still run old much-loved proprietary software, how viruses and security compares with Windows, how to get copies of free software without broadband, how to transfer files between two Windows and GNU/Linux computers, and so on.

Next time, rather than bringing my laptop with the deprecated non-free Ubuntu installation, I’ll bring an old desktop computer with several GNU/Linux distributions and show all of them, and the basic installation process - maybe with Instlux - and then move on to the basic applications. I might even demonstrate the applications in Windows, as that’s most likely to persuade people to check them out and start on the road to “100% Free Software”.

And it sounds like there will be a ‘next time’ - I’ll hopefully speak again here, and at another local, larger, Computer Club next year. It was total fun, so I really look forward to it!

Kids who go to school are addicts to non-free software

I heard from Open Schools Alliance that there is a motion in the British Parliament on the subject of Free Software in schools, so I pulled up the most excellent They Work For You and Faxed My MP.

I recently heard the Richard Stallman speech at the 2005 World Summit for the Information Society in Tunis and its a very compact 15 minute introduction to most of the core Free Software issues. Although its quite specific to the WSIS context, it does mention schools, so I thought this would be the best introductory reference.

Here is my letter:

Dear Annette Brooke, I am writing to you regarding ethics and sustainability, in a context you may be unfamiliar with: computer software. For a quick introduction to this subject, I recommend watching a short 15 minute video of Richard Stallman speaking at the World Summit for the Information Society in Tunis on 18th November 2005. It is the first 15 minutes of There is also a full transcript that you can read at I am self employed as a computer technician and tutor, and try to support Free Software as much as I can. So I was pleased to hear that the MP for Southport, John Pugh, has moved “Early Day Motion 179” in Parliament on the subject of Free Software in schools: “That this House congratulates the Open University and other schools, colleges and universities for utilising free and open source software to deliver cost-effective educational benefit not just for their own institutions but also the wider community; and expresses concern that Becta and the Department for Education and Skills, through the use of outdated purchasing frameworks, are effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source and the value and experience small and medium ICT companies could bring to the schools market.” - I would like to kindly ask you to sign this motion and help show the Department for Education and Skills and Becta that it is unethical and unsustainable for them to fund proprietary software companies. More information about this specific issue is available at and for background on why Free Software is an ethical and sustainable issue, I recommend reading Alternatively, please call me on 0777 3383 772 and I will be more than happy to explain these issues, if you would like. Yours sincerely, David Crossland

“Microsoft reckon there is Microsoft code in Linux”

Today on the Dorset Linux Users Group mailing list, someone mentioned the news that “MS reckon there is MS code in Linux”

This is, fortunately, not true.

A while back, Microsoft gave a company called SCO a lot of money to try this, and it failed.

The idea was that the kernel Linux is copyrighted code, and that it has included copyrighted code from SCO without permission. This simply was not the case, and all the code in the kernel is original or used with permission under the terms of the GNU Project’s General Public License (GPL).

If this had been the case, the kernel called Linux could either take the SCO code out, or stop being used. This would not be a problem, because the whole operating system is the GNU system, plus the Linux kernel.

This has been done several times with the FreeBSD kernel and the OpenSolaris kernel

If you call the whole operating system “GNU/Linux” or “GNU+Linux” then this is clear. I highly recommend taking up this habit, because it is a matter of fairness to the developers of the operating system we all love - to give the credit for the whole system to someone who came along later with a small part is unfair and just not nice.

(I recommend reading the Fedora mailing list post where I read about GNU systems without Linux and the GNU essay Whats in a Name?)

Calling the whole system “Linux” is very common though, and SCO didn’t appear to understand the distinction in court. Microsoft does, though, and is trying to attack the whole system with patents with the Novell-MS deal.

Patent law is totally different to copyright law. But a popular term, more popular than the term “Linux” for the whole GNU/Linux OS in fact, is “Intellectual Property”.

This term lumps together patents and copyright, and other totally different laws like trademarks and design rights. In short:

“Publishers and lawyers like to describe copyright as “intellectual property”—-a term that also includes patents, trademarks, and other more obscure areas of law. These laws have so little in common, and differ so much, that it is ill-advised to generalize about them. “It is best to talk specifically about “copyright,” or about “patents,” or about “trademarks.” The term “intellectual property” carries a hidden assumption—-that the way to think about all these disparate issues is based on an analogy with physical objects, and our ideas of physical property. “When it comes to copying, this analogy disregards the crucial difference between material objects and information: information can be copied and shared almost effortlessly, while material objects can’t be. To avoid the bias and confusion of this term, it is best to make a firm decision not to speak or even think in terms of “intellectual property”.”

(I also highly recommend reading a full essay on this subject.)

So patent law is very different from copyright law, and it is a mistake to compare them.

Patents, when applied to software, are really awful - and for all programmers, not just Free Software ones - because they cover ideas.

So Microsoft figures that it has some idea patents on some ideas, and the GNU/Linux operating system is composed of software that expresses those ideas.

This clearly is nothing like “MS code in Linux” - its far worse.

At least, for the USA, it is far worse :-) For us, being in Europe, Software Idea Patents have been rejected several times, thanks to the lobbying of the Free Software movement.

(I highly recommend reading an article published in the Guardian in 2005 about this lobbying, and a general overview of the two viewpoints.)

So, in the USA, what can be done about the MS-Novell deal?

According to Eben Moglen, the Free Software Foundation’s general counsel, the next version of the GPL will be out in January, and it will turn Novell into a “patent laundry”.

This means that any patents Novell has access to - like, all of Microsofts, say - the whole community has explicit access to - and puts Microsoft in a worse position than before the deal :-)

The end of that Register interview with Mogeln is especially interesting because it highlights the problem with the term “Open Source” - Moglen says that it doesn’t mean anything anymore!

(I highly recommend reading this essay on Why “Free Software” is a better term than “Open Source” if that statement strikes you as odd.)

The nice DLUG chap also mentioned but IMO the real reason to boycott Novell’s SUSE distribution of GNU/Linux is because it contains non-free software - just like Mandriva, Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora. The only recommendable distriubtion is gNewSense which is Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper with the non-free software removed.

The Term Open Source Doesnt Mean Anything

Eben Moglen has finally been interviewed on how the FSF is approaching the Novell-MS deal.

The most interesting thing was what he had to say about the phrase “open source” and his insights into Microsoft’s subliminal strategy:

“This was the week ‘Open Source’ ceased to be a useful phrase because it denoted everything up to and including Microsoft’s attempts to destroy free. Language is subject to this problem. Since the beginning of time uprising movements have taken pleasure in perverting the language of criticism used against them by the ancien regime - the ‘brave beggars’ of the Netherlands, and Yankee Doodle, and the Whigs and the Tories - it’s all the same terms of dis-endearment turned into a weapon. But the game is also played by modern propaganda in the other direction - by turning lang into the property of the guy on top: Fox News “Fair & Balanced (tm)”. “What Microsoft did to ‘Open Source’ was what Stallman always said could be done to it: first you take the politics out, and when the veal has been bleached absolutely white, you can cover it with any sauce you like. And that’s what Microsoft did, and ‘Open Source’ became the sauce on top of Microsoft proprietarianism. And once that process has been completed they have to go after the next vocabulary.” “So now they’re going to try the hard work of cracking ‘Freedom’. Free, well that means stuff you don’t pay for…” Microsoft had always been very astute in its analysis, we suggested. While the press focused on the open, or distributed nature of the production process, Redmond identified the fact that the GPL was viral as the real attack. “That’s right. They understood the copyleft problem well - and understood the GPL well. But they didn’t want to talk about the enemy because of the rule in American political campaigns that you don’t say the name of your opponent in case people remember it. They don’t do that anymore. They’ve dropped the mask,” he suggested. “What’s happened is that “Open Source” has died as a useful phrase - Free Software, the GPL, the FSF - all have become major stakeholders in the industry in Microsoft’s verbiage. Once you’re a major stakeholder you don’t go back to being a minor stakeholder unless you go bankrupt - and we can never go bankrupt because we have no business to lose. So if we’re major stakeholder. now we stay that way until the end of the chapter, and that’s a problem for Microsoft.”

We can see this directly in interviews with Bill Gates: In January he tried to confuse Free Culture with a No-Payment Culture, and he’s done it again this month.

This also coincides with one of the biggest promoters of “Open Source” - Red Hat and Fedora - heading towards 100% Free Software status.

However, Fedora includes non-free firmware just like Debian continues to, but it is on the right path. It might even one day surpass gNewSense as the best GNU+Linux distribution out there.

How can Art and Free Software live in peace and harmony?

Artwork seems like a different kind of work to software.

Indeed, RMS proposes [0] 3 kinds of works that require separate treatments:

  1. “Functional” or educational works: software, manuals, encyclopedias, recipes
  2. Works that “say what certain people think”: essays of opinion, memoirs, scientific papers
  3. “Aesthetic or entertaining” works: paintings, music, novels, desktop themes

For 1 the GPL is generally good to define and defend the 4 freedoms you need

For 2 the phrase “Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.” is all you need. [12]

For 3 though, “the issue of modification is a very difficult one because on the one hand, there is the idea that these works reflect the vision of an artist and to change them is to mess up that vision. On the other hand, you have the fact that there is the folk process, where a sequence of people modifying a work can sometimes produce a result that is extremely rich. Even when you have artists’ producing the works, borrowing from previous works is often very useful. Some of Shakespeare’s plays used a story that was taken from some other play. If today’s copyright laws had been in effect back then, those plays would have been illegal.” [0]

Similarly, when manuals are in printed book form, they often mix 1 and 2, and this gets difficult. The GNU Free Documentation License deals with this by allowing the ‘functional’ parts to have an appropriate license and the ‘essays of opinions’ parts to have an appropriate license.

Now I have read a lot of Marshall McLuhan [10], especially “Understanding Media”, and so my thoughts are conceptually dependent on his theories; if what I say is interesting, I highly recommend reading McLuhan :-) I’m also influenced a lot by Stallman, Lessig and Doctorow, and I bet all four have been reading the same history books.

McLuhan wrote about how the essence or nature of a television is different when it has 4 channels and when it has 4,000. That despite being the same physical object, when you plug in a cable/satellite/digital receiver, it TRANSFORMS into a completely different thing - because the effect on society is radically different.

Similarly, an audio CD is completely different when you have an electronic CD player and when you have a computer with a CD-RW drive and an Internet connection. Same physical thing, completely different effect on society.

McLuhan split history into 4 ages - Tribal, Classical, Mechanical and Electrical - determined by the technologies that radically altered the societies that invented them - spoken language, the alphabet, the printing press, and the electric circuit.

He recognised in the 50s that electric technology was “retribalisating” western society, returning it from a literate culture where the written word was the dominant form of culture and communication to a classical culture where the spoken word and image is the dominant form of culture and communication.

In the ancient cultures, the “folk process” that RMS writes about was the accepted norm, [11] what Lessig calls a “Read-Write” culture.

But when the printing press became widely used, it changed society, changed the tempo of the folk process, and we became what Lessig calls a “Read-Only” culture. The concept of ‘the author’, of a god-like creator or ‘creative’, emerged and overshadowed the idea of the folk process.

However, at least as recently as the USA’s constitution, it was widely believed that this concept was an illusion and that the folk process was really how artistic and entertaining things get made.

So a balance was struck, the balance of copyright, where an artificial break was applied to the folk process, with the idea of encouraging more stuff by pretending for a limited time only that ‘creative work’ could have owners.

Since then, mechanical technology like the printing press became steadily displaced by electric technology like the television.

McLuhan wrote that the artist’s job is to explore the “psychic” effects of new technology, and most of the original experimentation with electric technology’s effects on society happened before WW2.

For example, the “cut up technique” [1] is a literary technique from the 1920s that William Burroughs made famous in the 1950s [2] and inspired “cut up” music that Negativland made famous in 1980 [3] and is the basis of the ‘hip hop’ genre [4].

Each time a new electric technology for music emerged, like piano rolls in the 1800s, the existing industry hawed about its inherent evil, and each time, the governments recognised the folk process tempo stepping up a beat, and told them to adapt or go bust. The new technology thrived, and a new industry came about. But the idea of industry is rooted in the mechanical age or ‘industrial revolution’, and while that idea is playing a part, the folk process has a slow tempo.

For example, on the streets where it happens “for real”, hip hop is a very fast folk process. But the electric technology of the LP still required a publishing infrastructure from the age of the printing press, and the balance of copyright held. “The Industry” was able to co-opt “the underground”, and it was business as usual.

But we’ve been steadily displacing electric technology with digital technology, and the legacy of mechanical culture is vanishing in the digital age, with only remnants of an electrical culture, as surely as the legacy of the tribal culture vanished in the age of the printing press with remnants of a classical culture.

McLuhan pointed to Artists as the explorers of the effects of a new medium on society, when dealing with the mechanical and electrical ages. The ban-worthy offense that Burroughs caused [2] shows how the idea of who an artist can be was breaking down as the electric age ascended.

With the digital age, it broke down completely. While Burroughs is considered merely low brow, yet still an Artiste, the artists of digital technology are not called artists in any sense. Society instead calls them NERDS, and they call themselves HACKERS.

Digital technology makes the folk process go as fast as it can, and the “artists” described in Levy’s “Hackers”, like RMS, were the first people to deal with this.

RMS was the first person to really acknowledge that putting artificial brakes on the folk process of writing software, that goes as literally as fast as it can, for the sake of Gates-style riches is a dumb idea for society. And that there was a better way, and he was going to make it happen “if it was the last thing I did.”[5]

With a computer on every desk and in every home, all connected, the folk process for all aspects of culture has started to go as fast as it can: encyclopedias explode out of nowhere, [6] lifestyle magazines are dwarfed by the lifestyle blogosphere, and even the oxbridge elite ends of the press are under siege by thousands of bloggers just as smart, well informed, and lucidly writing as they are.

The “Permission Culture” of the mechanical age is being steadily replaced by the “Free Culture” of the digital age, whether the existing industry like it or not, and all attempts to stop this - gag alt.religion.scientology, stop napster/sharman/piratebay/whoever, DRM up your digital devices - are doomed.

It is not business as usual, the balance of copyright has broken, and the old forms of industry from the industrial revolution are vanishing. The biggest advertising agency in the world is Google, and they don’t employ any copywriters or other “creatives” - they employ nerds.

When RMS says there are broadly 3 kinds of works -

  1. “Functional” or educational works: software, manuals, encyclopedias, recipes
  2. Works that “say what certain people think”: essays of opinion, memoirs, scientific papers
  3. “Aesthetic or entertaining” works: paintings, music, novels, desktop themes

The idea of a novelist being paid in tips is from the past, and in the digital age, new forms are emerging that are purely digital and only make sense in the Internet. Enter Google Adsense.

Nerds explore the effects of digital technology on society, and Google has systematically hired the best nerds, [7] so they have this all worked out. Or at least just better than anyone else.

But for RMS to make a commercial/noncommercial distinction is curious, because Free Software doesn’t make such a distinction. It is as happy with sharing among friends and private modification at home for the fun of tinkering, as with commercial distribution and private modification for profit.

Creative Commons is fatally flawed in that it makes this distinction. By trying to bridge the permission and free cultures, it falls down between both. Non-Commercial use is really hard to define. There are millions of blogs with Google Adsense, and for me, I’m a single freelance consultant; anything I do that increases my public profile, including this essay, can be construed as commercial activity.

“I cannot endorse Creative Commons as a whole, because some of its licenses are unacceptable. It would be self-delusion to try to endorse just some of the Creative Commons licenses, because people lump them together; they will misconstrue any endorsement of some as a blanket endorsement of all. I therefore find myself constrained to reject Creative Commons entirely.” - RMS,

Where the different licenses do have things in common, they aren’t cross-compatible, so it isn’t even creating a real commons: the LGPL allows you to upgrade to the full copyleft power of the GPL if it becomes strategic to do so; you can’t convert CC-BY to CC-BY-SA in the same way, so its more like ‘Creative Ghettos’.

However, the single silo of CC-BY-SA is very much in the spirit of copyleft free culture, and competes with the GNU FDL. Fortunately, compatiblity is planned. In short:

  1. Works licensed under FDLv1 can usually be upgraded to FDLv2 because of the “at your option any later version” phrase in the start/preamble

  2. Works licensed under any CCvN can always be upgraded to CCvN+1 because of the “at your option any later version” phrase in the middle of the license (that is not highlighted in the ‘human readable’ deed)

  3. FDLv2 documentation with no invariant/etc sections can be upgraded to SFDLv1

  4. SFDLv2 will be compatible with CC-BY-SAv3 or if not with v4…


  1. PROFIT!!!

This is based on my reading of the (S)FDL drafts up on and background reading [13]

Since there are a lot of valuable projects out there under CC-BY(-SA) and as the licenses cannot be switched, and their spirit is free, I have no problem contributing to them. For example, I recommend gNewSense use Tango artwork which is CC-BY-SA. I wish it was GPL, but its not, and I can live with that.

But they are far far from ideal.

For RMS makes a non/commercial distinction because he’s rooted in the culture of the mechanical age and notions of freedom and privacy; he focuses on an anonymous micropayment system. But this is really a distraction from a lucid description of what really counterbalances the folk process: “artistic integrity.”

So I think the right way of treating “3” is as functional works, but in a way that respects artistic integrity. Fonts are one of the last frontier for Free Software, because they are a perfectly even balance between function and art. Since very different kinds of people become expert in software to join the free software movement, and become expert in typeface design and font development, there have been almost zero people in the world who are expert in both. The first person to do both, Victor Gaultney, wrote a new license, the SIL Open Font License, for his font “Gentium” [8]

Another example is the Revised Artistic License [9] though I’ve not seen anything under this license to date, and like Creative Commons it is considered non-free by Debian. While I’m not that fussed about what Debian thinks, since they promote non-free software, the project’s failiures should not discount the excellent analysese it produces.

Debian’s promotion of non-free software has recently been newsworthy because of firmware included in the very imminent release of Debian 4 (‘Etch’).

The poll at (results at ) suggests that in Debian 5 (‘Larry’) the firmware will be in non-free repositories.

However, the Debian/FSF schism in the 90s appears to be over the existance of the non-free repositories in the first place. gNewSense doesn’t carry them; if Debian aspires to be as Free as gNewSense, which I’d hope, then it needs to rm -rf the non-free repositories for Larry too.

I doubt this is ever going to happen, though, so to speculate, perhaps Fedora would change its firmware policy after Debian’s lead, and since it doesn’t do non-free, it’ll be 100% Free like gNewSense. Staying close to evolutionary trunks is important for me, and if Fedora does this I’ll switch that way, I imagine.

Recent corresponance with RMS [14] suggest that Fedora will go this way anyway.

I originally wrote “While I’m not that fussed about what Debian thinks, since they include non-free software in main, it is a consideration.”, I’m falling into Debian’s supposition that there should be a distinction between main and a total Debian repository. This is like the suppositions around the phrase “intellectual property”, in that it confuses the issue.


I think as a society we don’t consider artistic integrity as necessary for functional works, because the kind of people who make functional works are different to the kind of people who make artistic works. Artists are all about ego in a way that engineers aren’t. As design sits between the two, some designers aspire to create seamless work for their clients, and other designers aspire to become design celebrities.

If we keep on treating artistic works like something different to software, we will lose the ‘source code’ to them. We don’t normally think of artistic works as having source code, because we are used to considering “the most important thing [being] just the sensation of looking at the work.”

But when the folk process is measured in Ghz, the most important thing is how the work can be altered and culture improved. Artwork has ‘sourcecode’, and that needs a GPL-style requirement for sourcecode that the OFL and CC licenses aren’t yet making.

For example, consider loading a RAW image from your digital camera into an image manipulation program, turning it into lovely beautiful artwork, and looking at the list or recipe of operations you that you can see in the “undo” dialog just before you export or compile it into a 1600x1200 pixel image at 72dpi with lossy JPEG compression for use as your desktop wallpaper image.

Publish this under a ‘free license’, and the wallpaper can be changed, sure, but this is like the way binary compiled software can be changed - if you really want to do anything, you have to reverse engineer and recreate a transparent copy. Downsampling it for a 1024x768 screen is okay, but what about changing it for a 1920x1200 widescreen? (Guess who just bought a 24” widescreen monitor… ;-)

While I am aware RMS also notes that trying to treat copyright issues in a uniform way is a common tactic of proprietary interests, and that in reality copyright already makes very fine distinctions between different kinds of works to treat them in different ways, [0] I’m not sure that’s so useful while the Free Software Movement has little influence over copyright law.

Instead, the most practical way to treat the 3 kinds of work is to only treat them as 1 (educational) or 2 (opinion)

If they are treated as 2, “if they are just decoration, and easily replaced, then they do not have to be free.” [14]

But if they are as 1, plus artistic integrit, what is the best license for that, bearing in mind GPL compatibility is important?

I figure, if the GPLv3 can accommodate an artistic integrity clause that can’t be removed downstream, it might be better for creative works than anything else.

The fiunny thing is, McLuhan had this all worked out 50 years ago:

“It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking onto the matter.” - McLuhan, 1957. [10]

[3]: Looking at the first 5 links of shows how relevant they still are to all this [6]: and

How to Steal Software

How can you steal software easily?

Trick question! You can’t steal software at all.

Stealing is wrong because it deprives the original owner. If I steal your laptop, you have no laptop. If I copy the software from your laptop to my laptop, you still have software on your laptop.

This is unlicensed copying. Not stealing.

This might seem a bit medieval; Since the emergence of the printing press in Italy, publishers have tried to call unlicensed copying “stealing” and equate it to “pirates”, nasty psychos who attack ships. This went away when publishers got laws to stop unlicensed publishers from running their expensive printing presses. Those presses enabled paper money, title deeds, letters of credit, and other “abstract financial instruments” that caused to move European culture from feudal principalities to capitalist democracies.

And the stink about “pirates” went away, because publishers got their laws which traded the publics right to share - which they couldn’t make use of - for publishing monopolies that were meant to quickly expire. The time to expiry got longer and longer, and the public couldn’t copy things, until electric technology came along.

Marshall McLuhan wrote the book on the cultural transition that follows the technological transition from mechanic to electric media, before anyone really noticed it was happening. I think he understand the effects of new technology as much as is possible, and encouraged us to strive to not let the familiar perceptions of old media warp our perceptions of new media.

“Abstract financial instruments” are tokens for “non-abstract financial instruments” otherwise known as ‘assets’: bars of rare metal, patches of land, more bars of metal, that kind of thing. (I believe they’re called ‘assets’, please correct me if you know the correct term)

Copies of them are fraudulent tokens; the owner of a legitimate token can be deprived of what the token represents by them.

Software, both as functional code and as ‘whats-not-hardware’ inert data, is a different kind of thing to things that existed before computers. It is not a token for something else; it is its own thing. A copy cannot be fraudulently exchanged, and so unlicensed copying can not be “stealing”.

Free Software, in contrast, is always ‘licensed copying’, and it is always much better to use Free Software instead of unlicensed non-free software. (I note that Richard Stallman uses the phrase “unauthorised copying”; please let me know if there are problems in my choice of “unlicensed copying”)

Richard Stallman explains why in a recent speech at the Chicago LUG which I have transcribed:

00:03:05 Freedom number 2, the freedom to help your neighbour, the freedom to make copies and redistribute them to others when you wish, up to and including republication, is essential on basic moral grounds so that you can live an upright life as a good member of your community. If you use a program that does not give you this freedom then you are in danger of falling at any moment into a moral dilemma. Whenever your friend says, “That program is nice, can I have a copy?”, at that moment you will be confronted with a choice between two evils. One evil is to give your friend a copy and violate the license of the program. The other evil is to deny your friend a copy and comply with the license of the program. Being in the dilemma, you should chose the lesser evil. The lesser evil is to give your friend a copy, and violate the license. What makes this evil, a lesser evil? Well, if you are in a situation that you cant help wronging somebody, better to do chose somebody who has done wrong, and deserves it. Like the developer of a program who has deliberately attached the social solidarity of your community. Whereas we can assume that your friend is a good member of the community, is a real friend, and normally you want to cooperate with that person. There is another possibility, that he is not a true good friend, and doesn’t help other people, but thats an easy case, you just say to him, “Why should I help you?”. Right, so that case can be disposed of, and it leads to the other case. A hard case, where he is a good guy and member of your community and the kind of person you _should_ help. So helping your friend is the lesser evil. But that doesn’t make it good. Its never a good thing to make an agreement and then break it. Some agreements are inherently evil, and its better to break them than to keep them. But its still not really good. And the other thing is that if you do give your friend a copy, that will be an unauthorised copy of a proprietary program. And thats a pretty bad thing. Its almost as bad an an authorised copy of a proprietary program. So once you have thought this through, and really understood the meaning of this dilemma, what you should really do, is make sure you never are in it. There are two ways to do that. One is, don’t have any friends. Thats the method that proprietary software developers suggest. And the other method is, don’t use the proprietary software. If you don’t have this proprietary program, then you don’t face the dilemma of what to do when someone asks you for a copy. So thats the method I’ve chosen. If someone offers me a program, no matter how under the condition that I promise not to share it with you, then no matter how appealing it is, in a shallow practical sense, I will reject it. I will not betray my social solidarity, the social solidarity of my community. Its my duty, to refuse such offers. 00:07:08 The most important resource of any society…

In addition to the above, theres are a couple of quotes by Richard, about Napster, that are related to this topic:

Q: What kind of a position do you take on applications such as Napster? RMS: Napster is bad because it is proprietary software, but I see nothing unethical in the job it does. Why shouldn’t you send a copy of some music to a friend? I don’t play music from files on my computer, but I’ve occasionally made tapes of records and given them to my friends.
Before Napster, I thought it might be OK for people to privately redistribute works of entertainment,” Stallman says. “The number of people who find Napster useful, however, tells me that the right to redistribute copies not only on a neighbor-to-neighbor basis, but to the public at large, is essential and therefore may not be taken away.

Why a Free Software version of Flash is great for business

Flash is the most common technology for animations and videos on the web, and GNASH is the GNU software for playing those files. This is considered to be one of the most urgently needed pieces of Free Software at the moment, and is relatively unknown as it was only annouced in January of this year.

This week the big news for GNASH is the Mozilla and Adobe annoucement that Adobe would release an large part of Flash code under the Mozilla Public License and the GNU General Public License. While this is important news, its well covered elsewhere on the web.

Instead, the best thing I read about GNASH this week was a simple post on the Gnash mailing list, where it was a pleasure to see a clear business case for GNASH specifically and why Free Software is so business-friendly in general.

From: Udo Giacomozzi Date: 08-Nov-2006 10:33 Subject: Re[2]: [Gnash] Gnash cannot legally play animations created with MM tools? Hello Rob, Wednesday, November 8, 2006, 5:17:16 AM, you wrote: RS> More reasons to have a truly free Flash player… Agree. BTW, we *tried* to get a commercial licence for the embedded Flash player, which would also have been a reason to switch the device processor to something Flash-supported. But it appears you simply can forget about that unless you plan to ship 100,000 devices… As we develop custom software for devices in low volumes (after all the short development time for Flash content is so attractive for us) we can’t afford that. Udo

gNewSense: Finally, a modern GNU+Linux Distribution that is 100% Free Software

I was recently advocating Free Software in my local Freecycle forum and was asked,

So what are the versions that are 100% free then?

This has been a tricky question.

The Debian GNU/Linux system says it aims to be 100% free, and has a “social contract” as a formal commitment to this.

However, The Debian project actually includes tiny pieces of non-free software, and shares proprietary software that can be used in the Debian system, but is not essential.

Another problem for Debian GNU/Linux is the freshness of its software. The progress of Free Software is rapid, but Debian aims to run on almost all kinds of computers, and to be a ‘perfect’ system that has no bugs. (Bugs are the unexpected aspects of software - like crashes.) This means it does not have the latest versions of many things, and people who value features over reliability tend not to like that.

Ubuntu is based on Debian, and includes the latest versions of popular Free Software, and several pieces of proprietary software offered by hardware manufacturers. Ubuntu feel its better to have more computers work, even though those computers will not run 100% Free Software.

Because of this, it is hard to recommend either Ubuntu or Debian.

However, I personally have been recommending Ubuntu, because I figured most people do not yet feel strongly about the importance of ethical and sustainable software. If a version of GNU+Linux works well on their computer, and they hear the GNU project’s message about the ethics and sustainability of software, they are much more likely to value software freedom.

But the GNU Project itself cannot recommend such versions. They maintain a list of 100% Free GNU+Linux distributions but the list did not have any cutting edge systems.

But a significant event happened yesterday!

A new GNU+Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu, that is 100% Free Software, has been released. The FSF issued a press release at

I have experienced practical benefits of Ubuntu over Debian. Firstly in terms of hardware detection, as I tried to install Debian on my computer in July 2006 and it failed to detect my SATA harddisks and would not install, while Ubuntu installed perfectly. And secondly in terms of prettyness; as Mark Shuttleworth is fond of saying, “Pretty Is A Feature”.

So I think gNewSense is great!

…now I just need to install it…