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Comment You could choose software freedom (Score 2) 396

All proprietary software should be suspected of being malware. Microsoft Windows before version 10 was known to not behave in the user's interest and certainly not in the user's control (as per the definition of proprietary software). Microsoft tried pushing a Windows 10 "upgrade" on users by force, for example. Other "features" in Windows 10 (such as ignoring a user's privacy settings and doing what is in Microsoft's interest) were simply more along this line. Microsoft's aggressive sales tactics pointed to in this /. story are another example. In time there will be an announcement that Windows 7 will no longer receive updates and the hard sell for Windows 10 (or some other Windows variant) will continue. The question for all Windows users is how much more treatment like this they'd like to receive. It's never been easier to switch to a fully free software OS and run nothing but free software on top of that.

Comment Re:A lack of software freedom can be lethal & (Score 1) 60

So the threat of death is enough for you to argue the status quo standing behind proprietors and denying the user full control of a device they obtained (in Sandler's case wear inside their body) but not enough for you to let the user control. We still don't think that's the case for more common devices that are involved in lot of harm such as cars. In light of what's actually already happened to Sandler, your response is remarkably sycophantic to power. Automakers would probably be interested to talk to you in light of the ongoing embarrassment they face in Dieselgate.

Interested people already modify the source code to the software running on various devices, it's a matter of which people get to inspect, share, and modify. For all you know, in Sandler's case she could take said code to someone who is sufficiently skilled. In any event, to whom the user takes the source code is nobody's business but theirs and not a justification for the failures that have already occurred or foreseeable problems to others.

Comment But are users smart to rely on proprietary luck? (Score 2) 144

Chrome does that now, but Google could make Chrome behave differently and not ask, simply accept the new plugin (with its spying turned on by default) without prompting the user.

Ultimately this allegation of "smarts" is not under the user's control, it's unsafe and a minor stroke of luck that things happened to work out the way they did for now. It doesn't strike me as smart to dismiss this as a settled matter, just as it was not smart for Microsoft Windows 10 users to believe that the OS privacy settings were being obeyed when they weren't.

Comment A lack of software freedom can be lethal & sca (Score 4, Informative) 60

Karen Sandler, Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, has an enlarged heart (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and is at risk of suddenly dying (due to a medical condition called "sudden death"). She has no symptoms. She has given a talk about this many times at tech conferences, you should be able to find a copy of her talk online quite easily. She calls herself a "cyborg lawyer running on proprietary software" because she needs to wear a pacemaker/defibrillator device on her heart which keeps her heart beating within a predetermined acceptable range (not too slow, not too fast) by shocking her heart until it beats at an acceptable rhythm. Sandler said she's been shocked before and it's like being kicked in the chest and it takes the wind out of her for a while, requiring her to take some time for recovery.

She knew of software freedom and figured on these weaknesses in these devices, some of which can be controlled remotely at some distance, because all of them run on proprietary software. She tried to get the source code, even offering to sign a non-disclosure agreement to do so, and nobody would share the code with her. She said she was the only one to ask her doctors about what ran on the device. She therefore chose an older model which requires the "programmer" device which sends a signal to the pacemaker/defibrillator be quite close to her body so that she'd probably know if someone were doing things to her device. The lack of software freedom and full user control (ownership) of the device is quite obviously a health risk and possibly lethal. Don't let anyone tell you a lack of software freedom isn't serious.

An interesting thing happened during her pregnancy, which she explained in an update to her talk: She learned that a pregnant woman's heart sometimes naturally races. For most women of childbearing age this isn't a problem as they're unlikely to need a pacemaker/defibrillator, so their heart can occasionally race without serious consequences. For Sandler this racing triggers the device to shock her back into an "acceptable" heart rhythm. It appears that the pacemaker/defibrillator device makers didn't test this device on women young enough to be of childbearing age but they're apparently happy to sell the devices for implanting into users of any age. This lack of testing in combination with the lack of software freedom means the device manufacturers aren't doing due diligence and they're preventing younger women, such as Sandler, from looking out for their own interests—avoiding "sudden death". One can only imagine what horrible multiply lethal outcome could predictably result for a pregnant woman with the same condition Sandler has whose heart races when she was driving while receiving a shock from her non-free pacemaker/defibrillator device. Don't let anyone tell you a lack of software freedom isn't serious.

Comment Privacy loss? They're doing it to themselves. (Score 1) 172

Snowden confirmed beyond any doubt that Microsoft is an NSA partner and spying is big business (that's why the NSA has so many partners amongst software proprietors). We all knew Microsoft was and is a software proprietor. After this 'feature' becomes commonplace it will be easier to convince people that they don't need or want that pesky indicator light next to the camera/mic showing when the camera/mic is on. After all, it's always lit and therefore 'useless'.

A right and proper view would say you can't trust software proprietors (yes, as long as the corporate repeater sites like /. keep publishing the same kinds of stories, they'll merit the same responses because these stories all have the same lack of software freedom at their core). That indicator light was always under proprietary software control anyway, so you couldn't ever really trust the device wasn't on even when the light was off. Increasingly computers are a user-accepted means of spying on people in their homes, their cars, their workplace, and anywhere else they travel. A combination of desktop and portable computers all running proprietary, user-subjugating OSes with built-in cameras/mics has made this degree of spying viable for years. Consider the power of data collection in your tracker (or, less honestly: "cell phone"/"mobile phone") which primarily tracks your location many times a minute (via GPS and cell tower triangulation); this device has a mic you don't control and can't determine when it's on. The computer is very capable of secretly recording and sending audio data. Most trackers have video cameras too, with predictable benefit for spying. People can be monitored all-day every day, even while they sleep (some people sleep in front of a "smart" TV with a computer and camera/mic built into it, because that makes the TV "smart"!). They also have a charging tracker next to them all night long (because they're desperate to believe that they need to be reachable all the time).

Sadly, there are too many IT people who haven't thought this through and value minor conveniences over privacy. Knowing when such monitoring is beneficial and when it's harmful is beyond the scope of allowable debate in the corporate media, and there's simply no room for teaching people about software freedom or why we should value software freedom for its own sake. IT pros should help teach people what's possible here, not act as a bulwark for proprietors, spies, and push deeper user subjugation.

Comment Re:Free software is required to gain privacy. (Score 1) 183

You've overlooked an important benefit of freedom: only software freedom grants users the ability to either learn what needs to change and change it, or hire someone with the needed skill to do this job for them. You appear to have a preference for init over systemd (my experience is that the only people who bring this up dislike systemd), so you could do this work (or participate with others in doing this work) and then distribute the fruits of your labor, even commercially, so nobody else need live with the alternative you dislike. I doubt non-technical users will know what systemd or init are much less have a preference, but perhaps technical users will be interested.

Saying these freedoms are worthless without being technical enough to exercise them is thus not only untrue, it misunderstands the point of freedom. Your claim is akin to arguing that freedom of speech is pointless because you don't plan to speak against the powerful. Others would find such freedom useful, so arguing against that freedom does them no favors, and you can't tell what the future holds. Every programmer wasn't always a programmer, they probably started using computers as a non-technical user before they became a programmer. The wiser course is to value the freedom for its own sake and use it when needed.

You also conflate very separate issues: "closed source" is a reference to the open source developmental methodology which eschews the very freedoms I wrote about. That group is a right-wing reactionary effort founded over a decade after the free software movement and denies the focus on ethics and community the free software movement (a social movement) makes central to its activism. This has a profound consequence: Open source enthusiasts, when faced with an implacable proprietor who won't free their software or accept the offer of improving development by including the users, is all too willing to go along with proprietors. A free software movement activist, on the other hand, reacts by refusing the proprietary software offer and perhaps working to do the same job with a free program instead.

Finally you mentioned "commercial" in such a way as to suggest that commercialism is a relevant part of a problem here. It's not. There's nothing wrong with commercially offering free software programming talent. I recommend you charge as much as you can get for, say, offering your init-based variant of a systemd-based GNU/Linux distribution. You would hopefully offer a complete working operating system, not just the Linux kernel.

Comment Free software is required to gain privacy. (Score 4, Informative) 183

You're right in that the headline text is filled with lies (typical of the corporate tech press and their corporate repeater friends like /.) and things like this should all be opt-in by default. But without software freedom, even those changes would be necessary but insufficient to ensure user's privacy because there's no way to check to make sure the software actually behaves in accordance with the settings.

Microsoft's record shows this to be the case. The GNU Project's surveillance section of the Microsoft malware page does a good job of collecting stories about how this has already failed Windows users who thought they had tweaked the settings in just the right way to get Windows 10 to not "phone home" or report details of what happened outside the machine. These settings failed to do that job because the software was designed to fail in this way.

Much to the apparent chagrin of moderators in the recent Microsoft thread about letting Windows 10 users opt-out of automatic updates who marked down posts about software freedom, the real answer remains the same here—no software freedom means no real control over one's computer and that includes no privacy for the user. Network dumps reveal some of what the software does but not all; it's very easy for programmers to encrypt data they want to send somewhere and/or delay sending data in an attempt to not show up when the system's network output is being watched.

Microsoft's promises (which boil down to "Trust us this time! Really!") must be interpreted in the context of taking the word of a liar whose secret software should now be trusted. That makes no sense to do, and the same logic applies to all non-free/user-subjugating software. No matter how much technical skill you have you have to assume proprietary software is doing what you don't want it to do because you don't have the permission to check out what it's actually doing, change it to make it obey you, or help your community by sharing copies of improved software.

Comment Run nothing but free software and you'll get that. (Score -1) 156

The only way to get real and full control over your computer is to run nothing but free software. Free (as in freedom) software gives you the freedom to choose what you run, and to alter how the software behaves if you find you don't agree with what it does. No proprietor offers that as a choice. I suggest considering a computer recommended by the "Respects Your Freedom" campaign and other computers in which you can run fully-free OSes and free firmware (there are modern POWER8 and Intel-compatible systems to do this as well as older lower-end hardware).

As to Microsoft in particular, this story effectively comes to nothing. You'd have to be quite naive to believe that a proprietor will give up its power over the user to not have some way to make their system run what the proprietor wants. If Microsoft ever claims they don't have such backdoor access to Windows systems, keep in mind there's no way to verify that no such backdoors exist or fix them if they're later discovered. Microsoft has an ugly history (some of which the public knows about in the Windows 10 software that was forced on some users at various points) which should prevent anyone from believing them. This whole story is nothing but a PR move trying to make Microsoft look better in light of Windows users apparently rejecting Windows 10 and sharing information about times when Windows 10 was forcibly and immediately imposed. The tech press is so thoroughly corporate now you'll find sycophants saying otherwise but they can't talk away the lack of software freedom that forms the basis of a proprietor's power over their users.

Comment Don't forget: IBM values patent cross-licensing (Score 1) 94

As we learned years ago from IBM's "Think" magazine, #5, 1990

You get value from patents in two ways," says Roger Smith, IBM Assistant General Counsel, intellectual property law. "Through fees, and through licensing negotiations that give IBM access to other patents.

The IBM patent portfolio gains us the freedom to do what we need to do through cross-licensing--it gives us access to the inventions of others that are the key to rapid innovation. Access is far more valuable to IBM than the fees it receives from its 9,000 active patents. There's no direct calculation of this value, but it's many times larger than the fee income, perhaps an order of magnitude larger.

The analysis presented in that text file is valuable to us to understand what this means:

The value IBM gets from cross-licensing measures the trouble that the patent system would cause IBM if IBM could not avoid it. IBM's estimate is that the trouble could easily be ten times the good one can expect from one's own patents--even for a company with 9,000 of them.

Obviously that was written back when IBM had fewer patents, but it's no less true today. Continuing from the analysis:

For IBM, this trouble is hypothetical--cross-licensing prevents it from happening. For ordinary companies which cannot do likewise, the burden is real. IBM's estimate suggests that for a typical software company, patents will do ten times as much harm as good. Only the elimination of patents from the software field can enable most software developers to continue with their work.

Comment Let's not talk about Coreboot vs Libreboot... (Score 2) 397

You could ask about their views on Coreboot and Libreboot and you can look up the licensing yourself. Coreboot has non-free software in it which is stripped out in the Libreboot distribution. Let's not talk about "Coreboot vs. Libreboot" as if they're opposed. As far as I can tell, both work together harmoniously whether Libreboot is a part of the GNU Project or not.

Comment Small correction: distribution, not fork. (Score 1) 397

One small correction to what I wrote above: Libreboot is not a fork of Coreboot, Libreboot is a distribution of Coreboot without proprietary binary blobs. The parallel to GNU Linux-libre is still apt as both Libreboot and GNU Linux-libre distribute code without proprietary software included.

Comment Re:Coreboot vs Libreboot (Score 1) 397

What is the difference b/w Coreboot and Libreboot?

Libreboot is a Coreboot distribution which contains only free software. This difference is akin to why GNU Linux-libre (a fork of Linus Torvalds' Linux kernel) exists. GNU Linux-libre strips out the non-free blobs from the upstream Linux kernel and distributes the rest (possibly with other modifications related to doing this job which aren't necessary to get into to understand the point I'm making here). I recommend that you look up the respective project websites and reading about them.

Why does the GNU project need both?

Where did you get this idea? I don't recall anyone authoritative saying anything like this. One can boot GNU/Linux using Libreboot on a number of systems (rms runs such a device, for instance, and I'd be surprised if the FSF's systems don't run Libreboot).

Comment RMS speaks for the GNU Project, not Libreboot (Score 1) 397

[...] Stallman is talking as if Leah can't go back to her original project

Where are you getting this part? I see no indication that Stallman said Leah Rowe is somehow forbidden from developing Libreboot further. Stallman is clearly speaking on behalf of the GNU Project, not Libreboot, and he can say who gets to join GNU just as any other free software project leader gets to decide who joins their project.

Comment On software freedom's gift to users & philosop (Score 2) 397

Thanks for referring to the discussions that occurred when this first became public. The mailing list discussions and changes in the FSF's website make it clear that Leah Rowe is arguing on behalf of someone else—a former FSF employee whose identity was revealed when their bio was removed from the FSF Staff and Board webpage. The Libreboot project has not been "stolen" from the community as anyone is free to copy the project (before or after leaving the GNU Project) and develop the code further. That is why this is not a loss for software freedom, Libreboot users, or anyone who wishes to continue development (even continuing under the GNU Project again). This freedom is part of what makes free software so great and worth celebrating for its own sake. Only proprietary software really ends up becoming truly inactive because nobody but the proprietor is allowed to develop that code further.

One note on the reddit.org discussion pointed to in one of the links: poster "jammer170" claims:

Not "more free", but "more open". Stripping out binary blobs is important in the open source movement.

But that's almost exactly backwards; that assessment is woefully mistaken about the difference between the older free software movement (which objects on ethical grounds to proprietary software) and open source (a development methodology and right-wing friend of proprietors which finds it more convenient to help developers by sharing software development work but doesn't seriously object to proprietary software). This distinction is relevant to understand why Libreboot exists: Libreboot is a fully-free fork of Coreboot just as GNU Linux-libre is a fully-free fork of the Linux kernel. Both Coreboot and the Linux kernel contain non-free software in them. Both Libreboot and GNU Linux-libre projects inherit code from upstream and remove the non-free blobs (plus possibly make some other modifications beyond the scope of this point) and then distribute completely free software variants of their upstream projects. Thus GNU Linux-libre and Libreboot might not be able to run on all of the hardware their upstream projects run on but what systems can run either Libreboot and/or GNU Linux-libre are doing the jobs those programs do with free software.

This reddit.org discussion is not well sourced on this point, jammer170 makes the aforementioned points with no pointers to help readers understand this distinction nor why this distinction matters. The FSF has published essays (old, new) to explain why free software matters, why the open source movement eschews software freedom, and Richard Stallman devotes a section of his talks to clearly explaining the difference between the philosophies of the free software movement and open source including how those different philosophies play out in practical terms on the ground. Usually that difference comes down to free software activists taking steps to ensure software freedom while open source enthusiasts go along with whatever a proprietor requests.

Comment Re:Software non-freedom should make you feel unsaf (Score 1) 168

I normally wouldn't give your clumsy and inept follow-up a response, but I'm feeling more charitable. Your response is akin to concluding that because not all Americans have time or inclination to become great writers or orators therefore Americans don't need freedom of speech. Your response both ignores what has been going on for decades and (perhaps purposefully) fails to understand the difference between freedom and obligation.

Apparently billions of computer users "patch, upgrade, use, [and] enjoy" their computers and they don't all have PhDs. But what most computer users don't have is complete control over their computers. People apparently need to ensure their own privacy (a critical human need) on computers. With software freedom people have options including learning to program (even small programming tasks), learning sysadmin tasks (even minor tasks), and learning what is relatively safe or risky to do with a computer. Software freedom grants permission to understand what any program on their computer does. Software freedom includes hiring the work out to others, and asking friends and family for help. Without software freedom many things about the computer are unknowable because, by definition, one does not have the freedom to truly understand what the computer is doing and share that with others (including by improving programs) no matter how technically skilled and willing they are to learn.

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