Libre Graphics Meeting 4 Ahoy!

Andy Fitzsimon is cooking up a great LGM4 website - but damn, Singapore is a long way away…

How Funding Free Software Can Fail

Jim Gettys made a great post today on the SugarLabs mailing list about the problems with funding community projects:

I’ve seen projects *die* from having centrally funded development staff conflated with project management and governance. This was the X consortium model (though it made other mistakes too). The scars are on my back, and I’m personally partially responsible for that mistake. And also as a result of that mistake, I’ve had a hobby of observing (and participating in) governance of large free software projects over the last 8-10 years (e.g. Gnome,

Several things can happen when governance and development are conflated: companies/organizations think to themselves: “I paid good money to the consortium”, and tell them to do it rather than staffing up to get things done themselves. Net result: no community, and endless arguments over what work the central staff should do; often over pet projects the funding organization can’t afford anyway, looking at that pot of money as a way to get what they think they want.

  • companies/organizations think to themselves: “Other people are paid to do it, I won’t help”, (either by people or money).
  • it becomes against the economic interest of the funding companies/organizations for the software to continue to evolve. So they oppose change.
  • the funding organizations, having put good money in to fund people, now believe they have good reason to “vote” and control what happens. This fundamentally dis-empowers the community. And then, you get to start over building community and an organization from scratch. While successful forks are possible, boy, are they hard (again, first hand experience).
  • “us” v.s. “them”. We see lots of that right now with OLPC; as our efforts have had to shift toward issues arising out of deployment, it has had the effect of dividing the community who develop the code and those who have to deal with the day-in-day out support issues. Lots of frustration on both sides. But more pernicious is control vested in a single organization of funded people; their ideas become much more likely to “ship” than other contributors, dis empowering both individual volunteers and organizations. Great people drift off into other projects, and you die slowly. Did you know Guido Van Rossem was once an X hacker?

In general, I’m much more comfortable with resources in the organization responsible for Sugar going toward community building. If you look at Gnome, or new, most of the (relatively nominal) money they get from sponsors toward meetings and conferences, toward enabling travel of volunteers to those meetings, hardware for central facilities such as servers. They also act as dispute resolution forums, (though in well run projects, those are pretty rare events). The bulk of the work is done on by people with direct stakes in their outcomes, whether commercial or volunteer, and all are peers.

Having said this: sometimes it has made sense for open source organizations to fund work no one wants to do (e.g. test suites, or hiring copy editors to improve documentation, or…), though Cairo has shown even (some or all) those can be done by well disciplined projects.

So I’m very happy if Walter can get money to help push Sugar forward: but I think it is a grave mistake if we have governance of Sugar in *either* Sugarlabs (*if* it becomes a development organization by hiring developers) or OLPC’s hands. Sugar as a free software project has to become its own thing as an independently governed entity. And this will solve many conflict of interest and trust issues inhibiting growth of the community, and allow us all to work together even if funding sources are from highly competitive sources. You put the two together (governance and major funding), and it spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

Thanks for the pointer to Mako’s article. I wasn’t aware of it. I just have scars to prove it :-(….

Here’s another failure mode:

  • organization has a revenue stream to work on a particular project; said organization then decides to go in a different direction (from where the money was intended to be spent). Problem… Example: Motif; TOG was supposed to take the Motif royalty stream and spend it on maintenance and enhancement of that project; instead, the money went, (as far we can tell) to fund other projects the organization thought more important..

Software projects should have a life of their own, independent of funding source.

Arrested For Reading “Illegal Documents”

The UK is now arresting people for downloading “illegal documents” - from a well known terrorist organisation, the US government. This is via Richard’s blog:

[The UK state is] announcing their intention to imprison people for what they read. These tyrants are the real threat. Britons, don’t let the tyrants distract you by pointing at other minor enemies, while they attack your freedom.

From the Guardian article:

Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. … “they read me a statement confirming it was an illegal document which shouldn’t be used for research purposes. To this day no one has ever clarified that point.” … A spokesman for Nottingham University said … it was “not legitimate research material” but later amended that view, saying: “If you’re an academic or a registered student then you have very good cause to access whatever material your scholarship requires. But there is an expectation that you will act sensibly within current UK law and wouldn’t send it on to any Tom, Dick or Harry.”

Well, good old Cryptome published the links to “the edited FBI-alleged Al Qaeda Training Manual from DoJ” and “The full FBI-Alleged Al Qaeda Training Manual From Cryptome”

Be sensible and don’t click those links if your name is Tom Dick or Harry, eh?

Why Should Fonts Be Like Wikipedia?

Peter Nermander recently commented on the Scribus mailing list: “I wish fonts would be licensed the same way for example photographs.”

I disagree strongly about this. Fonts are functional software, and photos are typically decorative artwork, so they are not similar and ought not be treated similarly. Fonts ought to be like Wikipedia, “free as in freedom.”

I believe that since fonts are software, and since type designs are functional - a type design you can’t read with is non-functional - then they ought to be free in the same way as program software is, and functional information like encyclopedias is too.

There are several common criticisms of my position.

First, there is the basis of Peter’s comment, that “glyphs are art” and so type designs and font software ought to be treated like works of art. Scribus developer Andreas rightfully pointed out that “photos take only seconds or minutes to produce, while fonts take months or years.” But complex programs, encyclopedias with 10,000 high quality “core” articles and national street maps also take years to produce, so this is not a good reason why Peter is mistaken.

This reasoning is at best a misunderstanding of design as art, and at worse a sneaky way for proprietary software developers to justify DRM.

The second argument is that, if type is functional, and its function is to read written language, why do we need more than one typeface? Andreas wrote, “If function is all that matters, noone would need more than Courier/Times/Helvetica surely? Those are quite readable.”

Including several type designs in the list is a diluted form of the argument compared to “more than one?” because it already indicates that a variety of type designs are needed.

A variety are needed because while the ability to read words is the primary function of a type design, that is not the only functional aspect.

The software freedom movement needs many more fonts than those three - just as many as existing as proprietary software - because there are many secondary aspects of type designs that have a massive effect on how well they function.

There are also many tertiary aspects, about how type designs are implemented in software, too.

For example: Helvetica is a great type design for signage and large scale use, but it not intended for reading paragraphs of text at 10pt, and if its font isn’t hinted well, it will work very poorly at small sizes. Other sans serif type designs are intended for reading long texts with, and can be well hinted to function on screen as well as on paper.

The third argument is about money. This often comes with many assumptions that need to be examined - must type design be done as a business? Is a business in free information impossible? Or at least to make profit? Or to get rich? - and Andreas’ suggestion is typical of this: “A font designer has the right to profit from his/her work, and as long as one needs money for living, the font designer should decide how to pay for the use of his/her work.”

Richard Stallman was dealing with this kind of thing literally before I was born, and so I’ll parody his manifesto:

I could answer that nobody is forced to be a type designer. Most of us cannot manage to get any money for standing on the street and making faces. But we are not, as a result, condemned to spend our lives standing on the street making faces, and starving. We do something else.

But that is the wrong answer because it accepts an implicit assumption: that without total control of the use of font software, type designers cannot possibly be paid a cent. Supposedly it is all or nothing.

The real reason type designers will not starve making free software fonts is that it will still be possible for them to get paid for type design and font development.

Restricting copying is not the only basis for business in software. It is the most common basis because it brings in the most money. If it were prohibited, or rejected by the customer, business would move to other bases of organization which are now used less often. There are always numerous ways to organize any kind of business.

Probably type design will not be as lucrative on the new basis as it is now. But that is not an argument against the change. It is not considered an injustice that sales clerks make the salaries that they now do. If type designers made the same, that would not be an injustice either. (In practice they would still make considerably more than that.)

There are plenty of ways that type designers could make a living without selling various ways of using fonts. This way is customary now because it brings type designers and publishers the most money, not because it is the only way for them to make a living. It is easy to find other ways if you want to find them.

Here are a number of real world examples of free font software being paid for:

  1. A type designer finds 1 person who wants a font exclusively, and they pay 100% of the development cost (including a profit margin)
  2. A type designer finds 2 people who want a similar font unexclusively, and they pay 2/3rd of the cost each, leaving 1/3rd profit margin.
  3. A manufacturer introducing a new computer will pay for the porting of fonts onto the new hardware.
  4. An OS developer introducing a new OS will pay for the porting of fonts onto the new text layout engine.
  5. A lingusitics organization employs type designers to enable the organization to promote literacy in very poor areas of the world.
  6. The sale of teaching services also employs type designers.

I’m not sure that anyone has a right to profit, because if someone with a better business model starts their business, they ought to drive that person into bankruptcy.

There is nothing wrong about doing business and making profit and making a living, as long as that business isn’t socially harmful; many kinds of businesses are illegal, many more are socially frowned upon.

Proprietary software is socially harmful. I think I may have a better business model for making fonts than the proprietary guys; I’m certain I have a business model that can be profitable for me, and co-exist with them. Afterall, the only OS developers who have survived Microsoft, other than free software developers, are Apple.

Why Font Source And TrueType Binaries Are Never The Same

George Williams explains why a TrueType font cannot have a 1-1 relation to a SFD file:

FontForge is a font editor, it is designed to change things, not leave them the same. If you wish exact copying I suggest you use “cp” it will do the job nicely. Differences in the sfd files are caused by:
  1. FontForge has given you a GDEF table with glyph class info. It does this because these fonts contain different classes of glyphs, and in an opentype font that should be noted.
  2. One difference which is not visible in the sfd file is that FontForge has generated a ‘GPOS’ table rather than a ‘kern’ table in the ttf. If you don’t like that behavior you can have it generate a ‘kern’ table by turning off the OpenType Option when you generate the font.
  3. FontForge has reordered the glyphs. It does this because it always outputs glyphs in encoding order. If you wish glyphs to retain the original ordering simply change the encoding to “Glyph Order” (or “Original”) before generating the ttf.
  4. Each time it loads a new truetype font it generates a random PostScript XUID. This will be different because it must be different. XUIDs are completely irrelevant for truetype but are stored in the sfd file in case the user chooses to generate a PostScript font from this source at some time in the future. None of these changes has any effect on the semantics of the generated ttf. The same information is present in both fonts.
  5. The UnderlinePosition is different. This is indeed a bug in FontForge, which is now fixed. (It’s also well nigh irrelevant. Nobody cares about this field. It is stored differently in the ttf ‘post’ table than it is in a PostScript FontInfo dict (which is why ff gets it wrong)) The attached patch fixes this — it is also in the cvs tree.
  6. The “Instruction size” field of the ‘maxp’ table is different. I believe that the entry in the LiberationSans font as released on the RedHat site is incorrect — I believe the value FontForge has placed in its stead is correct. I believe this because the length of the ‘fpgm’ table of that font is 1797 and this is greater than the 1111 value stored in the ‘maxp’ table.

Fully-Free Fedora Kernel!

A fully-free Linux Kernel for Fedora!

Skynet Arriving Shortly

I love James’ attitude:

Apparently the US Army already has thousands of killbots in Iraq:


I love the Army’s attitude:

While Fahey said that no inappropriate shots had been fired, and no casualties, Fahey stated sadly that the robot’s control failure might be the end of the program. Says Fahey, “Once you’ve done something that’s really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again.”

No, once you’ve done something that’s really bad, you get arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, imprisoned, and you never do it again.

Reminds me, I never blogged about the Boston Dynamics Big Dog videos that were floating around ages ago. Scary stuff, and something the Bovington Tank Museum ought to order in :-)

LGM2008 Links

Dave Neary posted a roundup of LGM blogs to the CREATE list, and I thought I’d post it here:

There are the River Valley Videos the Flickr feed and tonnes of blogs: Cyrille Berger (part two and three) Leslie Hawthorn, Digikam, OS Publish (lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots, and who are all so full of enthusiasm and love for the hacker culture, both of which are kinda rare in the design community :-) Fedev, Thorsten Berens (who I had a great time hanging out with) Boudewijn Rempt (who I always learn something interesting from whenever I hang out with him :-) (part two and three) and Inkscape and OFLB contributor, Alexandre Prokoudine (part two)

I have tonnes of my usual notes that I’ll post shortly.

Video of Richard Stallman’s Speech on May 1st 2008

Manchester Free Software has published a video of the recent speech by Richard Stallman in Manchester about the free software movement; its two and half hours long, the last hour being questions which are particularly interesting for me.

Here’s a direct link to the torrent.

Free Software For Design In Argentina

I saw that has written a summary of the free software font movement (in Spanish) and I’m happy to see their work! :-)

They posted this great image of the MS Core Fonts:

Monopoly fonts

OLPC Compromises Its Core Principles, Ships Windows

BBC reports that OLPC is now officially distributing Windows, shredding one of its core principles - to only distribute free software. (It did distribute some proprietary software, the drivers for its wireless card, but I’ve overlooked this in the past.)

It seems clear to me that Negroponte has decided there was a choice between around 500,000 kids with internet and free software, and millions of kids with internet and Windows. I’m not sure which would be the biggest set back, but given we all grew up with proprietary software and Internet access, I think it will be not be a disaster to ship Windows on OLPC computers. As I wrote on an OLPC mailing list, the medium of the Internet is the real message here.

It is wrong for anyone to distribute proprietary software, yet I do think the wider social movement (towards a free society) is helped by tainted distros and by spreading internet access.

Although they both ship tainted systems as policy, Canonical and Red Hat are different to PCLinuxOS and Novell, since they are slowly moving towards 100% free while the latter have no plans to. I’m slowly moving that way too, and being further along, I invite others to catch up with me.

As long as people are moving in the right direction, they are helping.

Using the GPL’s leverage for money or freedom?

This interview with Richard Stallman talks about the proprietary-free “dual licensing” business model, where the leverage of the GPL is used for money instead of freedom; I often suggest that CC BY-SA is enough leverage for earning money instead of a CC NC license.

What about a software package that comes under both a proprietary and Free Software license; take TrollTech’s Qt or Sun’s StarOffice/OpenOffice. Do you see this as an acceptable model of Free Software support?

RMS: The cases of Qt and OpenOffice are not the same. With Qt, as I understand it, the same code is available under the GNU GPL to the public, and under a more permissive license to those who pay. So all the software is free.

This is an acceptable model, and I’ve suggested it occasionally to various developers, including (I believe) TrollTech. However, I would not do this myself. Copyleft gives the developer a certain amount of leverage which she can use in various ways. Qt uses this leverage to get money. The FSF uses this leverage to get others to make free improvements—which serves the goal we are working for more than the money would.

The case of OpenOffice is fundamentally different, because StarOffice has features not in OpenOffice. Not all the code is free. OpenOffice is an important contribution to our community, but its developers are not cooperating fully with our community.

UK Top Cop says assult is a “natural reaction” to possibly “losing face”

Gotta love Richard Stallman’s blog:

A UK police official justified allowing Chinese police into London because otherwise China would have sent the Olympic torch through another city. And he excused them for punching protestors because it was a “natural reaction” to possibly “losing face”.

Does he believe that people in general are allowed to punch protestors that make them lose face? Or is this a special privilege for Chinese thugs only?

A principled UK government would have told China to take its thugs elsewhere. But the Clown organization is not known for principle.

I’m glad to know that next time I feel I am losing face I can punch someone’s lights out. Er, what?

OLPC Nepal fell apart

OLPC Nepal has fallen apart.

OLPC had 5 “core principles”, one of which was free software:

Free and Open Source

The child with an XO is not just a passive consumer of knowledge, but an active participant in a learning community. As the children grow and pursue new ideas, the software, content, resources, and tools should be able to grow with them. The very global nature of OLPC demands that growth be driven locally, in large part by the children themselves. Each child with an XO can leverage the learning of every other child. They teach each other, share ideas, and through the social nature of the interface, support each other’s intellectual growth. Children are learners and teachers.

There is no inherent external dependency in being able to localize software into their language, fix the software to remove bugs, and repurpose the software to fit their needs. Nor is there any restriction in regard to redistribution; OLPC cannot know and should not control how the tools we create will be re-purposed in the future.

A world of great software and content is necessary to make this project succeed, both open and proprietary. Children need to be able to choose from all of it. In our context of learning where knowledge must be appropriated in order to be used, it is most appropriate for knowledge to be free. Further, every child has something to contribute; we need a free and open framework that supports and encourages the very basic human need to express.

Give me a free and open environment and I will learn and teach with joy.

Since OLPC has compromised on this core value, its not suprising that it is falling apart - although it is suprising that it has compromised on a core value like this.


gNewSense 2.0 Preinstalled

Los Alamos Computers are selling computers with 100% free software (gNewSense 2.0) preinstalled! (Via John Sullivan of the FSF on the gNewSense mailing list)

New Scientist Interviews Richard Stallman

The New Scientist recently did a pretty short, and in my opinion a very high quality, interview with Richard Stallman :-)

One of the founding fathers of “free software” and an esteemed elder of the hacking community, Richard Stallman has made defending people’s freedoms his life’s work. That usually means supplying hackers with software and attacking copyright law. But as he tells Michael Reilly, his advocacy of personal freedoms extends to the protection of true democracy and of the human rights increasingly being trampled on in the US and elsewhere

Is it true you used to live in your office?

Yes it is. I lived there for half of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

What made you do that?

It was convenient and cheap. To walk home to another place when I was sleepy was a very bad thing: first of all, if I was sleepy, it might take a couple of hours before I could get it together to put on my coat and my shoes and so on. And after that, walking home would wake me up, so when I got home I wouldn’t go to sleep either. It was so much better to just be able to go to sleep where I was.

What does “hacker” mean to you?

A hacker is someone who enjoys playful cleverness. I know many people think it means security breaker, but since “hacker” is what we call ourselves in my community, I won’t accept a derogatory meaning. If you want to refer to security breakers you should call them “crackers”. You can be a hacker in a lot of different media, it doesn’t have to be with computers. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology there’s an old tradition in which people “hack” buildings and public spaces, by putting up the famous “Nerd Crossing” road sign, for example. It didn’t involve breaking any security and it was playful and clever.

On playfulness, when did you start saying “happy hacking” as an alternative to goodbye?

At some point in the 1970s. I wanted some way to say goodbye and give good wishes to other hackers and “happy hacking” seemed like a good way to do it. It became a habit.

When did you make the leap from hacker to activist?

It happened in 1983 when I started the free software movement. I came to the conclusion that free software was the only way a computer user could have freedom, so I launched a movement to bring this about.

What is the free software movement all about?

It starts with a desire for freedom. I want to use a computer and not have someone else control what I do on it. And I want to be free to share with you. That means I cannot use the proprietary software that came with most computers in the 1980s. Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless: divided because they are forbidden to share it and helpless because they don’t have the source code. So the developer decides what the software does and the user has no say.

To change that state of affairs, I wrote the GNU operating system. As part of this I wrote the GNU General Public License, which ensures that every user of the operating system receives, along with the software, four essential freedoms: the freedom to run the program as they wish; the freedom to share the software with their friends and neighbours; the freedom to modify the program so it does what they wish; and the freedom to distribute their modified copies to others.

When the Linux component was added to the GNU system, it became a complete, free operating system and people really began to use it. They discovered certain convenient advantages, too. It was powerful and reliable, and of course you didn’t have to pay for permission to run it, which is a rather superficial advantage, but was important to many people.

How widely has it been taken up?

The GNU/Linux system has become quite popular, though concern for freedom has not spread as much as use of the system itself. A lot of people ended up having freedom but not knowing what it was. When people have freedom and don’t appreciate it, they’re likely to lose it. For example, in the mid-1990s, some distributors of GNU/Linux - of which there were already quite a few - started adding proprietary programs and saying, “Look what we give you!” They were essentially spreading the message that non-free programs were good. That is not the way to communicate the idea that freedom is important. It illustrates how not thinking about freedom has practical consequences.

You’re concerned about the loss of all kinds of freedoms. Is this why you supported Dennis Kucinich’s campaign to become the Democratic presidential nominee?

I supported his policies of restoring human rights of various sorts, such as habeas corpus, which has been partly dismantled in the US. President Bush has obtained the power to imprison foreigners just by calling them “enemy combatants”. Kucinich also supports an end to torture, and to wars of aggression. He would have ended the occupation of Iraq.

What is the number one issue facing the world?

Free software is not the number one issue, but it’s the one where I saw how to do some good. I think there are two vital issues. One is global warming and the environment. The other is human rights democracy, and taking the political power away from business. The only way to restore real democracy is to end the political power of business.

How do we do that?

Its grip is so strong, I don’t know how to overthrow it. I can only say that it must be done. People take for granted that business will have great political power, but as long as that holds true, we don’t really have democracy.

Are there any politicians who share this view?

The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, really supports democracy. He is also firmly in favour of free software. I explained it to him in person and he saw that it makes sense, both practically and ethically. He is a former economics professor. He’s kicking out the power of the US and the corporate empire and has refused to sign a trade treaty with the US. And when the treaty over the US military base there expires, he will not renew it.

Your belief in free software led you to consider ways of reforming copyright law. How would you do that?

With a compromise copyright system. People should be free to redistribute exact copies of virtually anything - movies, CDs - to friends and strangers for non-commercial purposes. Other uses should still be covered by copyright.

Are you optimistic that people will become more in tune with using free software and with freedom in general?

I’m a pessimist by nature. But so many surprising things have happened that I don’t think I know what’s going to happen 10 years from now. I’d rather just admit ignorance.

From issue 2651 of New Scientist magazine, 12 April 2008, page 42-44


Richard Stallman left MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1984 to develop the GNU operating system, designed to consist entirely of free software. He has been the project’s leader ever since and has dedicated his life to advocating the use of free software and campaigning against software patents and restrictive copyright laws.