What is the best Free Culture license? (v2)

I’m not sure what the best free non-software license is. That is, a license that respects the public’s freedom for things which are software, but not functional software - a digital manual for a program, not the program software itself, for example.

I’m sure who writes the most popular licenses used in this way is, though: Creative Commons.

The Only Acceptable Creative Commons License

One of the beautiful paradoxes of copyleft licenses is that their restrictions create more freedom.

Personally I use GNU+Linux and not a BSD. GNU+Linux, being mostly GNU GPL licensed, is a more powerful and reliable and flexible OS than BSD UNIX, being mostly BSD licensed, because copyleft ensures freedom, and freedom makes more powerful and reliable and flexible software. The GPL creates more freedom, so GNU+Linux is better. The GPL is clearly the best Free Software license.

Thing is, I don’t write software.

But because I appreciate what copyleft does to software quality and freedom, if I publish something for community development, I want to publish under a copyleft license.

So the only acceptable Creative Commons license for me is the CC-BY-SA.

“Non Commercial” Considered Harmful

As I want to make a living from Free Culture, I consider non-commercial terms harmful. This makes about half the CC licenses unacceptable.

Firstly, if I contribute to something with this license, I’ll be unable to use it at all to helping people through paid computer coaching.

Secondly, non-commercial terms create a giant sandbox effect that really limits the Free Culture that anyone can draw on to mix things together - you can’t take a CC-BY-NC sound and a CC-BY film and mix them together. So there’s really a bunch of obnoxious fences cutting up the supposed creative commons, and this is a real shame.

Having said this, perhaps Non-Commercial terms can work favourably if they expire. The way AFPL GhostScript worked in practice is an example of such an expiring license, in that it was only good for the most recent version, which was always no more than a year away. The penultimate release was under the GPL, and recently only the GPL is being used. I’d love to hear more about why that change happened.

This is very different to the way that, in theory, a CC-NC work will return to the public domain; in practice copyright is being extended for 20 years every 20 years, and can be taken as infinite from now on for the purposes of postmodern culture.

In the same way that you can “dual-license” things - such as Firefox, which is made available under your choice of GPL, LGPL, and MPL - you could license a work under CC-BY-SA-NC with an expiration to CC-BY-SA. Of course, this means that the expiration is expansive, rather than exclusive, otherwise the remixed works done in the initial period/license would become invalid, which wouldn’t be good.

What other CC licenses are left?

There are very occaisionally strategic reasons for not using copyleft, and the CC-BY might be useful for that. But it lacks an ‘upgrade’ clause to CC-BY-SA and this lack of interoperability is a real shame.

I think CC should have considered creating a hierarchy for its licenses, and allowed free culture to get more free, friction-free.

When I initially thought of this, I wondered why this wasn’t done already, because it seems so obvious, especially with the Lesser GPL being designed in this way. But Creative Commons doesn’t take a principled approach.

Plus, like the expiration idea, its a bit complex and so misses the consumer profile that CC is marketed to: If its hard to explain in 10 words or less on the ‘human readable’ deed, its unlikely to be in Creative Commons. The GPL license text is remarkably easy to read by humans though, you just need to print it out and sit down with it for 45 minutes; I guess this is too much to ask in these postmodern times, though.

“No Derivatives” can be free

The other CC license is the “No Derivatives” one. The question of if this is free or not is quite interesting, because its the root of the problems with the GNU Free Documentation License and Debian.

Richard Stallman’s famous “3 categories of works” makes a case for CC-BY-ND.

But rather than a drawn out license, a simple copyright statement of “Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.” does the trick, and is what Richard uses for his own essays of opinion.

This is particularly interesting, because Richard is distinguishing different types of works, in the same way that cultural proprietors seek to: “This movie is worth a lot so it can only be played once, but this album can be played as many times as you want but only only on this device.”

My natural reaction is to reject this because to me, its all just bytes now, and they can be used, copied and modified as much as I can imagine: Its all “software.”

But one of the primary concepts of Computer Science is to make a distinction between code and data. While films and music are now bytes, they are data, and the freedoms essential for code aren’t relevant, each kind of thing needs its own kinds of freedoms.

Indeed, copyright has always worked like this: Copyright terms last different lengths for different kinds of work. (This is a great way of teasing out where there is no such thing as “Intellectual Property,” by the way. If these things are really property, how come they expire at all, and how come some things (like typographic designs in the UK) expire after only 20 years?)

So it sounds reasonable to treat different kinds of works differently, and that there are 3 broad categories of works, with some borderline cases like fonts - which are both functional works (software) and artistic works (typefaces) at the same time.

But actually, there is no distinction between code and data. It is all bytes. The javascript code running in this webpage is clearly code, but we treat it as page data. More visibly, the Flash code running YouTube is clearly code, but we treat it as page data. In terms of software freedom, is running Gnash and playing Flash files equivalent to running QEmu and playing a Microsoft Vista virtual machine image? Maybe we can comfort ourselves with the elite GDB support in Gnash makes up for things, haha

Anyway. The purpose of CC-BY-ND is to encourage as widespread verbatim copying as possible, and this may or may not be suitable for certain kinds of work. If it is, the CC logo might help people understand they can copy it freely, but its complex terms compared to Richard’s simple verbatim statement may cause unneccessary bother.

No Logo

And there are wider problems with the Creative Commons logo.

“People have a tendency to disregard the differences between the various Creative Commons licenses, lumping them together as a single thing. That is as mixed-up as supposing San Francisco and Death Valley have similar weather because they’re both in California. Some Creative Commons licenses are free licenses; most permit at least noncommercial verbatim copying. But some, such as the Sampling Licenses and Developing Countries Licenses, don’t even permit that, which makes them unacceptable to use for any kind of work. All these licenses have in common is a label, but people regularly mistake that common label for something substantial.”
It is telling that Lessig regards the creators of a YouTube viral advertisement using NC music without observing the licence then paying the musician when they got caught as a success story. It is a success story for the New Permission Culture, not Free Culture.
Imagine a cabal of IP maximalists commissioning a double agent to pose as a libertarian. This would be the mission:
  1. Reinforce copyright. Promote its use, not abandonment, in popular culture.
  2. Isolate libertarians. Segregate free culture into a non-commercial ghetto. Preserve commercial exploitation for publishers.
  3. Enforce commercial impotence. Evangelise the purity of the gift economy. Establish commercial exploitation as a sin. Prohibit even private commercial exploitation of free culture.

Alternatives To The Giant

So what other free non-software licenses are viable?

http://www.freedomdefined.com is a great resource that lists all the license with some general use that uphold the principles of software freedom. But almost all of them are obscure.

The exception is the GNU Free Documentation License, thanks to its use by most Wikimedia Foundation projects, like Wikipedia.

This means a lot to me, and since I’d like my work to be interoperable with their projects, rather than a few CC-BY-SA things, this is my preferred license at the moment.

However, is also has problems:

“However, the full license must always be printed with the document and there are legal incompatibilities with the original GPL license for software.”
“It’s an adware-book licence! Even if the original author doesn’t activate the adware clauses, any later modifier can.”

There is something of a solution developing to these problems, with the GPLv3 project: The Simple Free Documentation License.

This will be available as an option to all existing FDL works that do not have invariant sections (the ‘adware’ stuff) and makes me happier about using the FDL.

For the moment, I’ll use the FDL in my own work, and contribute to things that are CC-BY-SA.

The Open Font Library Wiki

What started all this off was the Open Font Library Wiki, which uses the CC-BY-SA license, and to which I’d like to contribute to. However, I’d also like the ability to remix what happens to my contributions with the Wikipedia collective’s projects, especially wikibooks.org which already has a free Graphic Design book.

One proposed solution was to mashup the two documents with a “cut’n’shut” approach of heavy verbatim quoting. This is obviously not optimal, but my understanding is that to remix works like this by you need license compatibility anyway, because of the special meaning of the phrase ‘combined work’ in copyright law.

Dual Licensing” or “Metalicensing” is a solution in use by others, but it is messy and easily creates unmergable sandboxed branches. A one way solution is no good for me, though I first noticed this license in use a few days ago in the Ubuntu 6.10 Introductory Help system.

But I heard there is movement at the FSF and at CC to make the FDL and the CC-BY-SA licenses compatible. While maybe naieve, I have faith that this will happen, as more people than just me must be facing the problem. And it will be painless too, because the FSF and CC use an underappreciated copyleft technique I call “automatic update.”

The relevant sections of the licenses are:

“Each version of the License is given a distinguishing version number. If the Document specifies that a particular numbered version of this License “or any later version” applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that specified version or of any later version that has been published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation. If the Document does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation.”
“You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform a Derivative Work only under the terms of this License, a later version of this License with the same License Elements as this License, or …”

This has technique has lately been a source of concern for proprietary interests, now that GPLv3 is patching their workarounds on GPLv2. I personally think its an underappreciated innovation that has been quietly designed to pre-empt future workarounds and appears to function perfectly.

While FSF makes the automatic update optional by letting you specify a version, as the Linux Kernel developers have, CC makes it mandatory. And it not visible at all on the ‘human readable’ side. So I wonder when people write “CC-BY-SA 2.0” they realise that actually the legal text says any later version…

(I’ve seen the technique called other labels elsewhere, but I’m not sure of a canonical name. If you know it, please let me know.)

So I no longer see any issue contributing to CC-BY-SA works, like the OFLB wiki, because I’m sure that they will become interoperable with (S)FDL works soon enough.

Google Earth + Wikipedia

Wikipedia and Google Earth can be combined in a wonderful way.

One of the Free Software Foundation’s priority projects is to write a Free Software client for Google Earth, and I can now see why this is such a priority. There was actually a free software client for Google Earth servers, but it was aborted after legal threats from Google… NASA WorldWind is a free software application that is simiar, and the NASA data is freely available, but it isn’t a patch on the data available from the Google Earth servers.

What is the best Free Culture license?

I’m not sure what the best free non-software license is. That is, a license that respects the public’s freedom for things which are software, but not functional software - a digital manual for a program, not the program software itself, for example.

I’m sure who writes the most popular licenses used in this way is, though: Creative Commons.

The Only Acceptable Creative Commons License

One of the beautiful paradoxes of copyleft licenses is that their restrictions create more freedom.

Personally I use GNU+Linux and not a BSD. GNU+Linux, being mostly GNU GPL licensed, is a more powerful and reliable and flexible OS than BSD UNIX, being mostly BSD licensed, because copyleft ensures freedom, and freedom makes more powerful and reliable and flexible software. The GPL creates more freedom, so GNU+Linux is better. The GPL is clearly the best Free Software license.

Thing is, I don’t write software.

But because I appreciate what copyleft does to software quality and freedom, if I publish something for community development, I want to publish under a copyleft license.

As I want to make a living from Free Culture, so I consider non-commercial terms harmful. Firstly, if I contribute to something with this license, I’ll be unable to use it at all to helping people through paid computer coaching. Secondly, non-commercial terms create a giant sandbox effect that really limits the Free Culture I can draw on to help people.

Perhaps Non-Commercial terms can work favourably if they expire. The way AFPL GhostScript worked in practice is an example of such an expiring license, in that it was only good for the most recent version, which was always no more than a year away. The penultimate release was under the GPL, and recently only the GPL is being used. I’d love to hear more about why that change happened. Anyway, although theoretically a CC-NC work will return to the public domain, in practice copyright is being extended for 20 years every 20 years and is thus infinite. And something like CC-BY-SA-NC with an expiration to CC-BY-SA isn’t compatible, and so basically useless.

There are very occaisionally strategic reasons for not using copyleft, and the CC-BY might be useful for that. But it lacks an ‘upgrade’ clause to CC-BY-SA and this lack of interoperability is a real shame. I think CC should have considered creating a hierarchy of licenses, and allowed free culture to get more free, friction-free. I was puzzled for a bit why this wasn’t done already, because it seems so obvious, especially with the Lesser GPL being designed in this way. But Creative Commons doesn’t take a principled approach, and I doubt it will ever have a backbone… Anyway.

Richard Stallman’s famous “3 categories of works” also makes a case for CC-BY-ND, but rather than a drawn out license, a simple copyright statement of “Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.” does the trick, and is what Richard uses for his own essays.

So only the CC-BY-SA license fits my criteria so far. But there are wider problems with Creative Commons:

“People have a tendency to disregard the differences between the various Creative Commons licenses, lumping them together as a single thing. That is as mixed-up as supposing San Francisco and Death Valley have similar weather because they’re both in California. Some Creative Commons licenses are free licenses; most permit at least noncommercial verbatim copying. But some, such as the Sampling Licenses and Developing Countries Licenses, don’t even permit that, which makes them unacceptable to use for any kind of work. All these licenses have in common is a label, but people regularly mistake that common label for something substantial.”
It is telling that Lessig regards the creators of a YouTube viral advertisement using NC music without observing the licence then paying the musician when they got caught as a success story. It is a success story for the New Permission Culture, not Free Culture.
Imagine a cabal of IP maximalists commissioning a double agent to pose as a libertarian. This would be the mission:
  1. Reinforce copyright. Promote its use, not abandonment, in popular culture.
  2. Isolate libertarians. Segregate free culture into a non-commercial ghetto. Preserve commercial exploitation for publishers.
  3. Enforce commercial impotence. Evangelise the purity of the gift economy. Establish commercial exploitation as a sin. Prohibit even private commercial exploitation of free culture.

So what other free non-software licenses are viable?

http://www.freedomdefined.com is a great resource that lists all the license with some general use that uphold the principles of software freedom. But almost all of them are obscure.

The exception is the GNU Free Documentation License, notably used by most Wikimedia Foundation projects like Wikipedia. This means a lot, and since I’d like my work to be interoperable with their projects, this is my preferred license at the moment.

However, is also has problems:

“However, the full license must always be printed with the document and there are legal incompatibilities with the original GPL license for software.”
“It’s an adware-book licence! Even if the original author doesn’t activate the adware clauses, any later modifier can.”

There is something of a solution developing to these problems, with the GPLv3 project: The Simple Free Documentation License.

This will be available as an option to all existing FDL works that do not have invariant sections (the ‘adware’ stuff) and makes me happier about using the FDL.

For the moment, I’ll use the FDL in my own work, and contribute to things that are CC-BY-SA.

The Open Font Library Wiki

What started all this off was the Open Font Library Wiki, which uses the CC-BY-SA license, and to which I’d like to contribute to. However, I’d also like the ability to remix what happens to my contributions with the Wikipedia collective’s projects, especially wikibooks.org which already has a free Graphic Design book.

One proposed solution was to mashup the two documents with a “cut’n’shut” approach of heavy verbatim quoting. This is obviously not optimal, but my understanding is that to remix works like this by you need license compatibility anyway, because of the special meaning of the phrase ‘combined work’ in copyright law.

Dual Licensing” or “Metalicensing” is a solution in use by others, but it is messy and easily creates unmergable sandboxed branches. A one way solution is no good for me, though I first noticed this license in use a few days ago in the Ubuntu 6.10 Introductory Help system.

But I heard there is movement at the FSF and at CC to make the FDL and the CC-BY-SA licenses compatible. While maybe naieve, I have faith that this will happen, as more people than just me must be facing the problem. And it will be painless too, because the FSF and CC use an underappreciated copyleft technique I call “automatic update.”

The relevant sections of the licenses are:

“Each version of the License is given a distinguishing version number. If the Document specifies that a particular numbered version of this License “or any later version” applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that specified version or of any later version that has been published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation. If the Document does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published (not as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation.”
“You may distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform a Derivative Work only under the terms of this License, a later version of this License with the same License Elements as this License, or …”

This has technique has lately been a source of concern for proprietary interests, now that GPLv3 is patching their workarounds on GPLv2. I personally think its an underappreciated innovation that has been quietly designed to pre-empt future workarounds and appears to function perfectly.

While FSF makes the automatic update optional by letting you specify a version, as the Linux Kernel developers have, CC makes it mandatory. And it not visible at all on the ‘human readable’ side. So I wonder when people write “CC-BY-SA 2.0” they realise that actually the legal text says any later version…

(I’ve seen the technique called other labels elsewhere, but I’m not sure of a canonical name. If you know it, please let me know.)

So I no longer see any issue contributing to CC-BY-SA works, like the OFLB wiki, because I’m sure that they will become interoperable with (S)FDL works soon enough.

A Secret Story About Ethics and Sustainability

This is a story about ethics and sustainability, and a story about computers and software. We don’t normally think of computers in terms of ethics and sustainability, so this might be suprising. I reveal a big secret at the end, so I hope you’ll take the time to read my story.

Maybe you’ve heard the word Linux before?

Linux is often used as the name for an operating system.

What is an operating system?

For a moment, consider a computer to be like a house.

The operating system is like the walls and stairs and wiring inside a house, that make it a place you can live in, instead of a useless lump of metal and bricks. Its a collection of small software programs that work together so you can do basic tasks like print things or copy photos from your digital camera onto the computer.

The physical things that make up a computer, called ‘hardware’, are like the foundations and walls and roof of a house. Its not just the computer, its the screen and keyboard and mouse, and printer, and even the digital cameras. Without software, hardware is useless lump of metal and plastic.

But you need more than walls and stairs and sockets inside a house to make it a home. You need things inside the house that you use every day to do things, like the beds and ovens and televisions. Big programs that are complex and used to do certain jobs are called applications. Examples are the programs you use to write letters, or manage your music and photo collections.

There is a very blurry line between the operating system and applications. This changes over time - what was a distinct application a few years ago becomes part of the operating system - as its all just software programs, afterall. This is kind of like the way you can move into a furnished apartment, because over time it has collected common things everyone needs.

There is a relationship between the physical computer hardware, and the operating system software and the applications. The three need to be closely knit to work well together - a television isn’t much use without a house and home to watch it in.

When you visit a website, you use an application called a ‘Web Browser’. This application software uses the operating system software to access the Internet. Its like the relationship between the oven and the the gas pipes in your house when you’re cooking.

Now probably your computer runs an operating system called Windows, probably your word processor is called “Word” and your spreadsheet is called “Excel”. These pieces of software are written by a company called Microsoft. Probably you’ve heard of them, and the founder Bill Gates who used to be the richest guy in the world.

Here’s the first part of the secret: During the last 20 years, another operating system and all kinds of applications have been written, which are Free Software.

What is Free Software?

Free Software is software you have freedom with, first and foremost in the way you have freeom with free elections, free labour, free markets and free speech, and perhaps as in without paying money.

Today the Internet means that getting copies of lots of things - software, music, films, books, pretty much everything really - is now possible without paying money, so probably you won’t have to pay money to get copies of Free Software. Free Software is just honest about the Internet like that. (Here’s a great 30 minute talk by a science fiction writer about “Internet Ready Business Models” if you’re interested to learn more about this)

In fact, there is so much Free Software out there, getting hold of some isn’t a problem, its chosing the best stuff. (This is happening to everything thanks to the Internet, and is called the “Long Tail” effect.)

So taking the time to learn about it, download some, use it, then install it for someone and help them use it - these are all valuable services which people are happy to pay for. In this way Free Software is very pro-business - though it sounds a bit paradoxical to say you can charge money for Free Software, in fact as much as you can, it makes sense once this distinciton is made.

But most software companies aren’t honest about the way computers work. At a conceptual level, all computers do is copy and modify information, and all the Internet does is make it easy to copy information between computers.

Most software authors try to pretend computers don’t work like that, and that the Internet doesn’t exist. (Cluetrain) They try to stop you sharing copies with your friends - dividing people.

Sometimes they try to force this, by writing applications that will stop working if you share a copy but don’t pay the authors for a license to use the copy legally. Not cool.

Other times, applications don’t try to stop themselves being shared. There is a logic to this: The owners realise that its not legal to use unlicensed software, and so while people get away with it at home, they’ll get used to the software and recommend it to businesses, like the one where they work. Because businesses have to act within the law, the business will then have to buy licenses.

But this isn’t so much about the license fees, as the restrictions of a license in the first place - both explicit and implicit. The implicit restrictions aren’t obvious, unti the licenses are no longer being issued. When companies do very bady, they go out of business, and when they do very well, they get bought out. Often when proprietary software companies are bought out, its to use their underlying technology in another project, and the software you’ve come to rely on simply halts. This is one of the most inadvertent ways that proprietary softrware holds its users helpless.

An common explicit license restriction is on studying the software to see how it really works. Consider for a moment software that you don’t have freedom with, but didn’t pay any money for a copy of. The people who write it are the only people who can change it and improve it, from non-technical changes like translations into your local language, to large changes to make it interoperate with other software. Interoperation with other software is often underestimated, but ‘network effects’ are very powerful, and if someone or some business figures out a combination no one else is working on, there’s great opportunity in that.

Its like a big car corporation trying sells cars that have the bonnet welded shut - and stop independent mechanics and car dealers from running businesses. Not cool at all - in fact, unethical.

Over the long term, this is where the unsustainability of proprietary software comes in too. When the people who write non-free software stop improving it - and eventually they will, because as individuals they move abroad, or do something different now, or as business change focus, or go bust, or get bought out - you are really stuck. If you can copy it to a new computer at all, you can’t legally run it on any more computers than you have at the moment. You can’t get someone else to fix it when your new computer works differently to the old one. You are divided and helpless.

An unethical company that writes non-free software only has to pay for people who know how to program to write the software. After that, there are hardly any costs at all in making copies of their work, compared to say a car company that manufactures cars once its engineers and designers have done their work. An unethical company can then trick people into treating software just like a physical product, which can’t be copied and shared or easily improved.

In 1984 the GNU Project was started to create Free Software, to inspire a community of people to make it happen, so that you could use a computer using only Free Software and not be divided and helpless.

This was obviously a really big project, but the GNU Project founders had been using computers for 15 years already - since 1969! - and had experienced the annoyance of unethical and unsustainable software first hand already.

Now here, in 2006, this has largely been achieved!

So what does this have to do with “Linux”?

Well, the GNU project passed an important milestone when it was possible to run a normal computer using 100% Free Software, in 1991. After 8 years of writing the pieces of GNU on proprietary operating systems, the GNU Operating System was lacking one final component to run a computer with only Free Software.

In 1990 a student wrote such a component, for fun and to learn, and called it Linux. You know how old bridges were built, around a scaffold in two columns that were joined with a keystone that dropped into place?

Linux was like the keystone dropping into place to complete the system.

People were so excited that Linux could be combined with the GNU system to let them run their computers using only Free Software, attention was shifted away from the GNU system, and after a while the whole system became known as just Linux.

The people who combined GNU and Linux gave their complete systems their own names - like “Red Hat”, or “SUSE”, or “Debian”, or “Ubuntu” - but these are all basically the same system.

So its more honest to call the operating system GNU+Linux so both the Linux project and the GNU project get fair mention :-) This is a simple habit to adopt, and does a lot to raise awareness of why GNU+Linux is simply better than MS Windows - because it is ethical, respecting your right to share with your friends and neighbors - like the spirit of FreeCycle! :-)

Freedom to improve software, plus the Internet, equals lots of people improving things at once - so Free Software tends to be more powerful and more reliable that non-free software.

You may have heard of “Open Source”, which describes the way reliable and powerful software can be made quickly and easily, but because it doesn’t pay attention to freedom and ethics, hides the reason why Free Software is just plain better.

In the mid 1990s, the computers that used the GNU+Linux system became as powerful and reliable as most other computers. Antisocial, unethical people then began to write non-free software for the system, which kind of defeats the whole point, in a way.

By advertising the system as “open source Linux”, and hiding the GNU Project and the ideas about freedom, they tempted people to not think about software ethics and sustainability.

Almost all version of the GNU+Linux system, like Ubuntu or SUSE or Mandriva or Red Hat, contain non-free software.

I hope that by telling this story, people will want versions of the system that use 100% Free Software, and will not be tricked into accepting unethical and unsustainable software. One such version is gNewSense

Why Do Design Companies Buy Apple Computers?

There is no technical reason for the Graphic Design industry to stick with Apple kit any more, because they essentially run the Adobe’s operating system. I’m only half joking; most designers don’t use computers for anything other than web browsing, email, and Adobe tools - especially since Adobe bought Macromedia last year.

This feels faster on Windows, and Apple sells normal PCs these days, in nice cases, so generic “beige box” PC hardware is identical, and cheaper. Today Adobe develops software for Windows first and Mac second, and the delays with CS3 have been Vista related, not Mac OS X related.

In the last 10 years, since Adobe’s tools become viable on Windows, the industry has wasted millions of shareholders’ money on shiny Apple kit, simply because Apple has (better) designers than Microsoft and Dell, and designers like design. No surprise in that, though.

How To Help Someone Use A Computer

Phil Agre has several amazing texts on his website, but particularly useful is his “How To Help Someone Use A Computer” page. I found it particularly insightful, although there’s a balancing act between “Don’t take the keyboard.” and “Never do something for someone that they are capable of doing for themselves.”

Freedom, not Price

Any of the RMS things where he explains ‘its about freedom not price’ and ‘you are free to charge a fee, and we encourage you to charge as much as you can’ is important to consider when examining non-commercial licensing terms like most of Creative Commons.

Creative Commons is essentially derived from Richards ideas, applying them to non-program software - “digital media” - as the FSF doesnt acknowledge that non-functional programs count as ‘software’. This is probably because they’ve all been using software to mean programs rather than data since the early 70s. I think with widespread Internet by the mid-late 90s, the nature of data changed dramatically. Is the Javascript running in a webbrowser software or page data? What about embedded Flash page data?

I think McLuhan is a good source of insights into all this, and he was writing in the 1950s! There’s also a lot of interesting stuff about all this in the early wired magazine.

Information Jazz

I’ve been thinking around the idea of ‘on the fly’ or ‘live’ information design - can methods be designed to deal with the abundance of information that is poorly Information Designed?

I’m thinking of a relationship similar to that between musical performance and composition. “Information Jazz” perhaps? ;-)

My random thoughts were just focused with the ‘Inside Higher Ed’ article “Are College Students Techno Idiots?” (via Miles!)

“Susan Metros, a professor of design technology at Ohio State University, says that reading, writing and arithmetic are simply not enough for today’s students. What is important for learners is information: how to find it, how to focus it, and how to filter out nonsense.”

The only think I know of thats similar to this is ol’ Fravia :-)

Creative Flowerbeds

I saw a 2006 vintage interview with Richard Stallman today, and was saddened to see the Creative Commons Non-Commercial terms attached.

I wrote this email to the author, that explains why I feel personally about ‘non commercial’ license restrictions:

Hi, I really like your interview, and would love to give you a donation, but I was saddened to see that you use one of the Creative Commons non-free licenses. I do computer coaching for a living, and have begun to heavily promote Free Software. As part of my work, I am building a collection of computer culture information which I give to my customers as a value-added extra to my services, which some customers are not interested in anyway. I will also distribute the collection to the public through my website. I would love to include your interview with Richard, but with that license I won’t be able to :-( Similarly, I might like to quote the interview in full on a personal blog, followed by my own commentary, but if I have Google Adsense on my personal pages - which is very common - then this would also be commercial activity and not possible. Richard advocates using a simple copyright notice of “Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.” for written works like your interview, that are not technically useful compared to say a manual. If you feel strongly about the non-commercial terms, I welcome hearing about your reasons - feel free to blog about email and reply with the URL :-) — Regards, David Copyright (c) David Crossland Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire email is permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved. :-)

More Affero GPLv3 Stuff

Probably the most substantial change would [give a] program’s developer a way to insist that an ASP running the program and offering access to the public must make the source code for the program available for public download. Some developers have been unwilling to release software under the GNU GPL without this provision.

The next draft is due out tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Affero clauses will be updated :-)

Amazing Timeline Webpage Widget

I thought this timeline AJAX widget was very, very neat.

Proper Mouse Input

Foosel has instructions about how to get the forward/back buttons on an IntelliMouse Explorer 4 working.

To get the middle button on a ThinkPad X31 working as a scrollwheel, add these two lines to the mouse input device section of xorg.conf:

Option “EmulateWheel” “true” Option “EmulateWheelButton” “2”

Why Fonts Should Be Free (As In Liberty)

Stallman is constructing specific licenses to restore freedoms removed by copyright, patents, … not simply providing an unprincipled pix & mix selection of licenses that may appeal to certain people for certain markets, e.g. where permission to copy may be a promotional advantage, but not if anyone makes any money out of it (“That money is mine!”) … we have those that say that “The public’s freedom shall not be suspended, even for an economic incentive to publishers”, and … we have those that say “Licenses that require visibility of source code in published derivatives can sometimes make commercial sense”. Obviously, Stallman cares not one whit about the latter group

Visible source code is really a symbol for permitting modified versions and unrestricted/commercial use, and for fonts source code matters little.

So if we adopt an open source motivation - that licenses that permit redistribution and modification can sometimes make commercial sense - we will find areas where there is no commercial sense, and almost certainly, fonts is one of them.

If we adopt a free software motivation, we want all software to be free - and as fonts are software, it makes sense that fonts should be free.

Setting the Dell WFP2407 Native Resolution in X Windows

To find the modeline just input the screen dimensions, and for the HorizSync and VertRefresh values, at the terminal run:

sudo apt-get install xresprobe; sudo ddcprobe | grep monitorrange

The first two values returned are HorizSync, the second pair is VertRefresh. So for this 24” Dell WFP2407 screen to run at 1920x1200, the magical xorg.conf lines are:

HorizSync 30-83 VertRefresh 56-76 Modeline "1920x1200" 204.95 1920 2024 2272 2744 1200 1200 1203 1244

Setting the Dell WFP2407 Native Resolution in X Windows

To find the modeline just input the screen dimensions, and for the HorizSync and VertRefresh values, at the terminal run:

sudo apt-get install xresprobe; sudo ddcprobe | grep monitorrange

The first two values returned are HorizSync, the second pair is VertRefresh. So for this 24” Dell WFP2407 screen to run at 1920x1200, the magical xorg.conf lines are:

HorizSync 30-83 VertRefresh 56-76 Modeline "1920x1200" 204.95 1920 2024 2272 2744 1200 1200 1203 1244

Silent, Tiny, Powerful

Like a mac mini, but black.