Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Freedom is an enabler of future features

In the absence of a charismatic leader that stands up for freedom people will place it on a second plane. Fighting for freedom means sacrificing our present selves for the betterment of the future us. In my opinion most people are not capable of such a thing on their own. See more on my original article FSM  – my own piece about freedom

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Failure of parental control software

Just wrote a comment about the failure of parental control software see more about it here See the two comments made by me under the name Bogdan Bivolaru: http://www.lockergnome.com/it/2009/06/15/how-fast-kids-grow-up-these-days/

I can’t link to the comment directly.

Added a photo iconAdded a photo icon

Changed the site image to be less bland:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rene_ehrhardt/2390754091

Found on Flickr. Licensed by René Ehrhardt under CC-BY

The state of the freedom services and what can you do about it

First, if you don’t know what freedom services are you should read autonomo.us because that is what this page is all about.

I think most of the problems of freedom services are coming from slow communication in the implementation world. That is people that could run a software long enough for it to become a reliable service are not connected to one another. Ok, they are connected with the developers of that software and they meet other users there, but this is not enough! That is a community dedicated to designing and writing software, but we need a community focused on running software services.We need a place where people with middleware expertise (such as Wikipedia maintainers) meet people with web server expertise, database expertise, generic server-side programmers, Ajax programmers, but also find investors, people with new services ideas.

So the problem in my opinion is the gap in communication between people with resources needed for a network service:

  • some people have the money to finance it (or have extra hosting space, extra bandwidth), but don’t have the time;
  • others have the time and willingness to run or maintain a freedom service, but don’t have the money or don’t know what service to run;
  • others have ideas of what kind of a service they should build, but don’t have the money or the determination to run it –  this is most likely a potential user with a bright idea.

Wikimedia / Wikipedia is one of the most popular services (Alleba 2007 – Top10 most popular sites), yet only a handful of individuals maintain it’s 400 servers – a few guys and gals (see Wikimedia staff here). Yes, they do a great job as they are, but, if they could afford it, I’m sure they would hire more people.

Cluenet.org is an organization of volunteers maintains a network of 20 servers: they have the hosting space and bandwidth to run much more services than they do now, but they never reach the potential they have because they don’t know people with ideas. They run freedom network services, just that they don’t know it yet. And they need services to build upon their own. They hosted the Freedomware Gamefest, the only online gamefest in history to use only freedom software.

Myself, during highschool (around 2003-2004) I had a lot of free time which I wanted to invest in configuration, maintaining and running a service because there was much to learn about network services and I could not learn it other than in a real world situation. But I had no money to build a service nor did I know what service should I build. Last year, I had money and I new what service I wanted to build, but I was a full time employee at a proprietary software company so I had no time. Now, I am unemployed so I have a lot of free time, I know want to build this very community service, but I have little money. I never had all I needed all by myself, I need outside help to succeed – I want to solve this problem for myself and all others like me.

Right now I dream about such a community, but I dream alone, so please help this effort by dreaming along with me. Let’s call it <Service World> or <Freedom Services Social Network>… or make a suggestion! In fact people of the old business world would call this a virtual business incubator. This much I know so far, so it should:

  • have application type sections (web server section, database section, WikiMedia, PHP… you get the picture) – ExpertsExchange has a pretty good hierachy
  • offer opportunities for organizations looking for volunteers or sponsored workers
  • offer advice on how to build a community around a service
  • have an idea service pool
  • should offer legal advice
  • software for the community would be under the AGPLv3 license, content would be CC-BY-SA
  • this needs not to be the single such community, so please copy it, redo it.

Let us dream what this could be and let us make it reality! Let’s rock the network services world.

Hello sandbox!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

This is just a sandbox post for me and my readers to test out the comment system,…

Communication in Free Software

I believe the problem of communication is by far the biggest problem and obstacle in the adoption of free software. I believe we have solved all the major technical problems in the adoption of free software, and the ones that remain are either being worked on or in testing. What has yet kept us from becoming the dominant supplier of software is our way of communication and marketing. Oh, I hear my readers mumbling: “here comes another free software detractor”. Actually, this is my best attempt at gathering attention upon an issue I can not solve by myself.

Why can’t I solve it alone, and then present my solution? Because that would be my solution to my version of the problem, as I see it. It would actually be of little help for others, as their issues are not even addressed. And failing to get their support to my initiative, it would fail itself, as many others did.

This problem needs be advertised by people with higher mind share on the public than my own, as there are still (many) people that negate its very existence.

Where do I see instances of this problem: in support forums in discussions between “gurus” and “newbies”, between developers and (experienced) users. Examples:
“Winning Hearts and Minds” by Angry Admin, http://theangryadmin.blogspot.com/2008/03/winning-hearts-and-minds.html
“A tale of two worlds” Daniel Robbins, Gentoo project initiator, http://blog.funtoo.org/2008/01/tale-of-two-cultures.html
“Why did I stopped reporting bugs on Ubuntu”, http://glyphobet.net/blog/?p=140
“Why I quit: kernel developer Con Kolivas”, http://apcmag.com/why_i_quit_kernel_developer_con_kolivas.htm
“Family Guide to Digital Freedom” by Marco Fioretti, http://digifreedom.net/?q=node/103

These are all old participants in the free software world (or they claim so). Even if every one of this reports are false, this is still an issue that should be analyzed.

I have to give 2 examples and ask your opinion on it.
1) I believe there is an important distinction to be made between our campaigns to use free software and our answers in support forums.
Say an end-user shows up on a support forum saying “I am using your free software program X on some proprietary Operating system” or “in combination with other software that does not respect user’s freedom”. In the current support forums the end user is likely to be greeted with a knee-jerk type of answer. For example: “Use Linux” or “read the guidelines” or worse – no answer at all.

I believe the right attitude of the ‘support people’ should be: “while we do not support your proprietary operating system, but here is the best advice we can provide you given the circumstances…”. The support community should provide end users with the best experience they can, so that users will come back when they are unencumbered by proprietary products.

End users have their own reasons for using their current products and could probably not give up on those products without costly transitions. Best thing to do should be to ensure a smooth transition – smooth by their terms – to free software. If their first contact is positive they are likely to come back. If we behave badly and rude and speak only technical language they will take their business elsewhere.

2) Another big mistake that we do is not explaining the free software philosophy in end users terms and with examples that affect them directly. Explaining artists the same freedoms as to programming coders is wrong: they care more about culture and telling them free software can smooth their ride in free culture is much more effective. By free culture I mean artwork developed collectively, just as our software, and distributed under a free (copylefted) art license.
It is right to present the four basic software freedoms, but for them free software is a means to achieving an end, free culture, and starting with the means to reach the end is wrong in my logic book. We should rather start with the end they care about and help them understand how Free Software can get them to that end. This is where we should rightly show them the four basic freedoms. This is also where I hope to turn them in free software advocates to others in their profession.

Communication in an overgrown community

Here I try to answer problems posted at Why I’ve stopped reporting bugs to Ubuntu. In this discussion we should assume that everyone involved in a free software project is benevolent. This may not be true in some particular cases, but greatly simplifies discussion.
I belive problems you are facing with Ubuntu developers are part of a larger communication problem within the free software development community. Namely the community has grown so large, that it becomes difficult to communicate with others involved. Actually there are two problems here: communication between project members and communication between different projects. Here I will limit to the first, which will still take a lengthy post.

Developers now hardly only scratch their own ‘itch’, as there are many requirements coming from all over the world. Experienced developers have more features to add, have more developers-wanna-bes to teach, so they spend less time teaching the beginning developers. Also beginning developers have more and more bugs to solve and less time to spend with them. They are likely to haste the closing of a bug as that could take them closer to being ‘full’ developers. They have a rather self imposed target of closing bugs and that is a normal desire for advancement. They may not even realize that their bug patch is not ready for ‘prime time’. This is not to say that it is anyone’s fault. Everyone is working just as before, only there is more work to be done, there are more people to talk to.

Let us take some examples:
On the developer side, I belive the SourceForge.net, has over 1.7 million members and 167,515 projects. Even assuming half or more of those accounts/projects are inactive, these are still staggering figures. Imagine a quarter of these projects are active need at least a maintainer to make them work in your favorite distro, that requires 40.000 maintainers per distro!
On the user side UbuntuForums.org has 483,921 users. How do you handle that many users asking what not and making a flurry of bug reports? Most Linux Distros/projects are expected to hit this wall sooner or later, depending on their how good are their best practices in communication. Please read what Daniel Robbins says about the Gentoo community(-ies) at A tale of two cultures

Let us go to large monolithic projects, where the kernel ‘Linux’ tops over all other projects with 2500 developers. Here is the perspective on the developer side Being a Moron on linux-kernel. On the user side, nobody really knows how many running kernels are in the world, but we can surely tell that the figure puts a big strain on the user support sites. Communications problems here lead to ugly situations like Kernel Developers vs. Mainstream Users Duel. Also, here is a quote from the APC interview with Con Kolivas:

If there is any one big problem with kernel development and Linux it is the complete disconnection of the development process from normal users. You know, the ones who constitute 99.9% of the Linux user base.

Here is my atempt at a plan to solve this issue:

  • we need to raise awareness that we have a communication issue;
  • once everyone knows we have this communication issue, we should try to define it more thoroughly;
  • once it is defined we should try to find solutions.

There are several problems with this plan:

  • it requires communication throughout the community
  • we do not know precisely who is ‘everyone’ in the free software world.

    But How do we talk to non-contributing users? We surely can not ignore them, they are part of the problem!

  • How do we know when everyone knows enough about it? How do we know we have reached an agreement on defining this issue?

Let us not even discuss how can we solve it. It could lead us to solving problems of a group and ignoring everyone else’s. That is no way good. Before introducing the “gate” system, Linux kernel developers had big problems like having no free time. Is the new system better? For developers it is, for users I’ll let you, the reader, answer that question.
To end up on the positive side people should know this issue is being addressed at Linux_Foundation_Collaboration_Summit and here is where Mark Shuttleworth talks about some nice tools on improving collaboration: Ubuntu perspective.
These efforts are something that need be encouraged and extended. Also read my older posts at Better free software development and Standard for communication between project infrastructures