Glyn Moody writes: Vladimir Putin has signed an order calling for Russian federal authorities to move to GNU/Linux, and for the creation of "a single repository of free software used in the federal bodies of executive power". There have been a number of Russian projects to roll out free software, notably in the educational sector, but none so far has really taken off. With the backing of Putin, could this be the breakthrough free software has been waiting for?
Glyn Moody writes: After two years of leaks, the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) version 2 has been published [.pdf] — and it's a disaster for free software. Where EIF version 1 specified that patents in open standards should be "made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis", we now have "FRAND terms or on a royalty-free basis in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software." Of course, that doesn't say *which* open source licence, and conveniently allows the GNU GPL to be excluded by terms that are incompatible with it. So the lobbyists won: I can't wait for Wikileaks or the new Brussels Leaks to tell us what happened behind the scenes when EIF v2 was being drawn up.
Glyn Moody writes: Today is a doubly-special day for the world of computing: on 12 November 1937, "Alan Turing’s paper entitled "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungs-problem" appeared"; while on 12 November 1990, another historic text appeared, which began: "The attached document describes in more detail a Hypertext project." Perhaps we should be marking this in some way: how about establishing a world-wide Web Day on this date?
Glyn Moody writes: The Business Software Alliance is making some big claims in its latest study: "Reducing the piracy rate for PC software by 10 percentage points — 2.5 points per year for four years — would create $142 billion in new economic activity while adding nearly 500,000 new high-tech jobs and generating roughly $32 billion in new tax revenues by 2013." Digging through the documents backing up those figures, it becomes clear that this analysis omits to take into account the *negative* effect on other sectors that moving from unlicensed to licensed copies would have. After all, if people have to pay for software they currently use for free, they will spend less on other sectors, all things being equal. That will lead to less tax revenue, and fewer jobs for the local economies, not more, as the study suggests.
Glyn Moody writes: The GNU GPL depends on copyright to work: "Developers that use the GNU GPL protect your rights with two steps: (1) assert copyright on the software, and (2) offer you this License giving you legal permission to copy, distribute and/or modify it." So what would happen if copyright were abolished (OK, I know...)? Would that mean that free software also disappears? Richard Stallman thinks not — and has a plan, just in case. But don't worry, RMS doesn't actually want to abolish copyright: "My proposal to make copyright last 10 years from date of publication is meant to be conservative. I agree that 5 years might be enough, and I have nothing against a shorter period. But I don't want to push for it to be that short." Who said he wasn't a pragmatist?
Glyn Moody writes: It's now over a year since Oracle announced it was buying Sun. Its latest financial results suggest the acquisition is paying off: "We estimate that the acquired business [Sun] will contribute over $1.5 billion to Oracle’s non-GAAP operating profit in the first year, increasing to over $2 billion in the second year. This would make the Sun acquisition more profitable in per share contribution in the first year than we had planned for the acquisitions of BEA, PeopleSoft and Siebel combined,” said Oracle President Safra Catz." That's great — for Oracle's shareholders, but what about the the other *stakeholders* — the developers and users of Sun's open source software? There, things aren't looking so good. Oracle has lost Java's creator, James Gosling; MySQL and OpenOffice both seem to be floundering; and one open source project — OpenSSO Express — has been abandoned. Is Oracle already a disaster for open source, or should we give the company more time to prove that it can help free software flourish — and not just extract money from it?
Glyn Moody writes: You think copyright can't get any more Draconian? Think again: in Germany, newspaper publishers are lobbying for "a new exclusive right conferring the power to monopolise speech e.g. by assigning a right to re-use a particular wording in the headline of a news article anywhere else without the permission of the rights holder. According to the drafts circulating in the internet, permission shall be obtainable exclusively by closing an agreement with a new collecting society which will be founded after the drafts have matured into law. Depending on the particulars, new levies might come up for each and every user of a PC, at least if the computer is used in a company for commercial purposes." Think that will never work because someone will always break the news cartel? Don't worry, they've got that covered too: they want to "to amend cartel law in order to enable a global 'pooling' of all exclusive rights of all newspaper publishers in Germany in order to block any attempt to defect from the paywall cartell by single competitor." And rest assured, if anything like this passes in Germany, publishers everywhere will be using the copyright ratchet to obtain "parity".
Glyn Moody writes: If open source is such a success, why aren't there any billion-dollar turnover open source companies? A recent briefing by Red Hat's CEO, Jim Whitehurst, to a group of journalists maybe provides an answer. Asked why Red Hat wasn't yet a $5 billion company, as he suggested it would be one day, he said getting Red Hat to $5 billion meant “replacing $50 billion of revenue” currently enjoyed by traditional computer companies. If, as is likely, that's generally true for open source companies, it means they will need to displace around $10 billion of proprietary business in order to achieve a billion-dollar turnover. Few are likely to do that. Perhaps it's time for managers of open source startups to stop chasing the billion-dollar dream. If they don't, they will set unrealistic ambitions for themselves, disappoint their investors and allow opponents of free software to paint one of its defining successes – saving money — as a failure.
Glyn Moody writes: The Internet's perfect copying machine makes the ideas behind copyright — now in its 301st year — largely irrelevant today: once a copy is online somewhere, it's impossible to take it down everywhere. Could the arrival of low-cost, high-quality desktop 3D printers do the same for patents, by enabling anyone to download and print off analogue objects? With copyright and patents nullified, what might manufacturing companies turn to in order to fight back against these perfect counterfeit versions? How about trade secrets and trademarks?
Glyn Moody writes: Against a background of Google Chrome's growing market share in the browser sector, and doubts about Firefox's long-term prospects, Mozilla needs to come up with an effective response. How about going back to the project's roots, and forking the Firefox code? Creating a small, independent team with permission to break all the rules, which would work in direct competition with the main Firefox branch, would give Mozilla the best of both worlds: rapid-fire releases of innovative code plus steady improvement of the main Firefox browser, with the latter adopting features from the former as and when appropriate. After all, if Mozilla doesn't fork Firefox, somebody else probably will...
Glyn Moody writes: Diaspora, the free software project to create a distributed version of Facebook, has been much in the news recently — not least because it has raised $170,000 in just a few weeks. But what's also interesting is the way they've raised that money: through a series of graded rewards for pledges of financial support. This is an approach adopted by some forward-thinking musicians: for example, Jill Sobule funded her last album in the same way, garnering $75,000 in pledges from fans. Is this a model that could be applied to other free software projects, or is it just a one-off?
Glyn Moody writes: The final version [.pdf] of the important Digital Agenda for Europe has been leaked – and shows that the European Commission has betrayed open standards. Where an earlier draft [.doc] had an entire section headed “Open Standards and Interoperability”, the latest version only uses the word “open” once in the corresponding section “Interoperability and standards.” It also contains nonsense like this: “Every IT product or service relies on one or more standards. Interoperability between these standards is the only way to make our lives and doing business easier – smoothing the way to a truly digital society.” But it's not interoperability *between* standards that is important – that's just engineering – but interoperability between *implementations* of a given standard: that's where the battles are, as the history of HTML and ODF has shown. So, are they fools or knaves?