Support Ogg Vorbis and your own freedom

The Free Software Foundation has started a new campaign to convince people to support Ogg Vorbis with PlayOgg.org. Other formats (such as MP3, AAC, and many others) are patent-encumbered or only available with proprietary software. You shouldn’t have to lose your freedom to control your computer just to play audio and video.

Long-time readers of Digital Citizen know that I host and steer people to multimedia encoded in free formats (Ogg Vorbis for general-purpose audio, FLAC for archival-quality audio, Speex for compressed versions of human speech, and Theora for video). I also work with others (such as News from Neptune) to help them host their media in free formats.

There are a number of programs for various operating systems to play all of these kinds of files. The audio files can be played with portable digital audio players too. So you don’t have to give up portability to keep your freedom when you’re on the road. The FSF has some instructions on acquiring and installing VideoLAN Client, a popular all-purpose media player and media sharing program.

More places you can go to get audio in Ogg Vorbis format (and licensed to share):

  • Jamendo—considerable variety, lots of French music
  • Magnatune—a wide variety of genres of music
  • Kahvi—easygoing electronic music
  • Pandora—Classical music

More OLPC progress

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is progressing and the folks at OLPC have put together another video with interviews of the people behind the project.

If you’re unfamiliar with their work, you can search for “OLPC” on this blog and find their other video.

As before, the new video is licensed to to share under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.5 license (local copy).

One Laptop Per Child is progressing

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an important project which makes and distributes inexpensive laptop computers for children in poor countries. The machines run a GNU/Linux operating system and use free software for almost everything. The machines require very little power (no more than a child can generate through a crank, as I understand it) and the display is low-power. The machine can be safely disassembled by a child including the screen which has no mercury as is common in LCD displays in every laptop display you’ve seen.

See what they’ve been up to in their new video, the first of what promises to be a series.

The video is licensed to to share under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.5 license (local copy).

Mark Shuttleworth: “All the applications in Ubuntu are free software”

The most recent edition of “Questions please…” features an interview with Mark Shuttleworth, head and chief sponsor of Canonical and the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution. The license for the recording is as follows:

Verbatim copying and redistribution of these entire recordings is permitted worldwide and without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Thanks to Questions Please… for making the recording available in a format everyone can play and licensing it to share.

About 12m15s into the recording, the topic of proprietary software came up:

Jonathan Roberts: Do you think there is a danger in trying to attract new users by trying to add proprietary bits to GNU/Linux?

Mark Shuttleworth: Yeah, very much so. So we’ve always resisted the temptation to add proprietary applications. And we have tons of users who wanted Java before Sun had said they would GPL Java, and they still haven’t finished the process of GPLing Java so it’s not completely in Ubuntu. Similarly with Flash and Adobe Acrobat and other sort of, proprietary bits and pieces that people really really do want that we just won’t add to the distro. We absolutely see Ubuntu as a way of introducing people to free software applications; to a complete free software environment.

Now we draw the line in terms of hardware enabling and we draw the line quite hard. We say that [...] the driver that it takes to enable the hardware that you bought we will ship. And so we’ve always shipped wireless drivers, for example, and we’re discussing turning on by default the 3D drivers and all this would make things like Compiz and some of the newer video applications and so on just work out of the box. Other distributions take a different view, some say that firmware is unacceptable, some say that firmware is acceptable. So Debian, for example, in all of its recent releases, has made an exception to its free software guidelines for its kernel package to allow it to ship firmware, which is essentially proprietary software. So different distributions have taken different views on that and we take—our dividing line is between kernel and applications. All the applications in Ubuntu are free software only and we stick to that despite suitable pressure to do differently.

Jonathan Roberts: And that’s a good—in my opinion, that’s the best approach I think.

Ubuntu boasts about distributing Opera for Ubuntu users—all the software Ubuntu users need to run the proprietary Opera web browser is available “with a couple of clicks” according to their press release. Ubuntu also claimed that “Ubuntu will always be free, and will not have restrictive licenses associated with it.”.

How can we make sense of these diametrically opposed claims?

Continue reading

Chris Hedges on Ralph Nader

Chris Hedges, author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” has written an essay on Ralph Nader, subject of the new documentary “An Unreasonable Man”. He addresses the 2000 election for which some still blame Nader for somehow “spoiling” and causing Bush to become president:

There is a fascinating rage””and rage is the right word””expressed by many on the left in this fine film about Nader. Todd Gitlin, Eric Alterman and Michael Moore, along with a host of former Nader’s Raiders, spit out venomous insults toward Nader, a man they profess to have once admired, the most common charge being that Nader is a victim of his oversized ego.

This anger is the anger of the betrayed. But they were not betrayed by Nader. They betrayed themselves. They allowed themselves to buy into the facile argument of “the least worse” and ignore the deeper, subterranean assault on our democracy that Nader has always addressed.

It was an incompetent, corporatized Democratic Party, along with the orchestrated fraud by the Republican Party, that threw the 2000 election to Bush, not Ralph Nader. Nader received only 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000 and got less than one-half of 1 percent in 2004. All of the third-party candidates who ran in 2000 in Florida””there were about half a dozen of them””got more votes than the 537-vote difference between Bush and Gore. Why not go after the other third-party candidates? And what about the 10 million Democrats who voted in 2000 for Bush? What about Gore, whose campaign was so timid and empty””he never mentioned global warming””that he could not carry his home state of Tennessee? And what about the 2004 cartoon-like candidate, John Kerry, who got up like a Boy Scout and told us he was reporting for duty and would bring us “victory” in Iraq?

Interesting to hear what people have to say about it now that that race is behind us and the emotions can somewhat more easily be put aside. Interesting also how people who see nothing to like in the media-favorite Democrats (the ones selected for us to pay attention to) can more calmly assess the candidacy of any third party or independent candidate.

But I remain wary of the fickle “Left”: I see no end to the self-defeating argument of a “viable” candidate; I remember them championing a corporate Democrat just three years ago; I wonder why the big marches against the war aren’t scheduled to conflict with campaigning; I miss the strident demand for all representatives to do everything in their power to end the war in Iraq, bring the troops and corporations home, and discontinue US incursions into Iran (which, Seymour Hirsch says have already begun).

You can hear Hedges’ argument about the Christian right””what Hedges calls “the most dangerous mass movement in American history”””and its links to corporate America in his recent interview on Democracy Now! (audio, video, transcript). Also there you can see a recent interview with Ralph Nader and Henriette Mantel, one of the two filmmakers behind “An Unreasonable Man” (audio, video, transcript).

What is Free Software? Why does Free Software matter?

Richard Stallman discussed Free Software and the future of Free Software in Zagreb on March 9, 2006. The GNU logoFree Software is software that respects a user’s freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify the software for any purpose at any time. Non-free software, by contrast, denies users these freedoms. Even if you’re not a programmer (as most computer users aren’t) you can indirectly benefit from the freedom to modify computer software.

Ciarán O’Riordan has prepared a transcript of this talk, and the one year anniversary of this talk is coming up so I thought carrying the talk here would be a good thing to do.

The transcript came with this license, and typically Stallman’s recordings do as well: Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

There are many topics in the talk that often come up during discussions of Free Software. One of the most common issues concerns distinguishing between Free Software and “freedom of choice”:

It’s a mistake to equate freedom to “the freedom of choice”. Freedom is something much bigger than having a choice between a few specific options. Freedom means having control of your own life. When people try to analyse freedom by reducing it to the freedom of choice, they’ve already thrown away nearly all of it and what’s left is such a small fraction of real freedom, that they can easily prove it doesn’t really matter very much. So that term is very often the first step in the fallacious argument that freedom is not important.

To be able to choose between proprietary software packages is to be able to choose your master. Freedom means not having a master.

Richard Stallman

23rd Chaos Communication Congress video and audio

The 23rd Chaos Communication Congress (23C3) has ended and videos are available under the Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Germany” (BY-NC-ND) license (local copy). They’ve published their videos in Ogg Vorbis+Theora and other formats as well.

One of the highlights is a talk from Prof. Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University on “Code vs. Culture” (audio+video, audio). More links to more videos as I get time.

Questions Please… episode #1 interview

A new show called “Questions Please…” has distributed episode #1 in Ogg Vorbis format under a license that allows verbatim distribution (“Verbatim copying and distribution of these entire recordings are permitted worldwide without royalty provided this notice is preserved.”). Jonathan Roberts, the host, interviews Richard Stallman, Jeremy Allison and Jeff Waugh in this episode.

There is some exploration of the value of freedom and consideration of ethics in computing, including debunking a common myth about becoming more free by being free to discard your rights. During a discussion of what free software-related wishes the three interviewees had, Stallman noted that he wouldn’t oppose a law prohibiting proprietary software but he chose to take a different path working against proprietary software. Roberts followed up by asking:

Roberts: Do you not think though, Richard, that a law against it [proprietary software] is in many ways restricting those people’s freedoms to—

Stallman: No. That’s basically making a Russell paradox out of freedom. The freedom to give up your freedom, basically, conflicts with the idea of inalienable rights. There’s some rights that are threatened and important, and in order to make sure they continue to exist, they must be inalienable. When people’s right to sell themselves into slavery was abolished, that made society more free because it closed a path by which people became slaves.

Roberts: Okay, yeah, that’s a good point.

Link: Russell paradox.

Observations on the ramifications of electronic communication media.

What are the social consequences of basing one’s communication on email, instant messaging, or netnews?

Randal Schwartz, Perl hacker, gave an interesting talk on this matter at FISL7 (download the audio or listen now).

This talk is distributed to you under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Eben Moglen interviewed on GPLv3

The GNU General Public License (or GPL), the most widely used free software license, is being revised. Version 3 is imminent and there is much heated discussion because this license is a kind of constitution for the free software movement. This is a big deal for the free software community. Discussion and criticism are actively encouraged and are taken seriously by the reviewing groups whose job it is to digest the input from the public into more manageable chunks and then take these summaries to the people that write the language of the license.

Leo Laporte and Chris di Bona interviewed Eben Moglen, chief counsel for the Free Software Foundation, about the GNU GPL version 3.

Once again, Prof. Moglen steals the show, but part of his response is quite important if you want to understand why he doesn’t respond to individual critique of the GPLv3: those with access to the press would overrun others who only have access to a web browser and access to the aforementioned GPLv3 discussion website. This is critical for moderators to understand, lest they become a participant in the discussion rather than trying to understand sometimes diverging points of view.

Download the show or listen to it now. Share it with your friends, it’s licensed under the Creative Commons By-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license.