Note: If you just want to look at my bash script and related text files (without packages), you can download them here.

Following from my last post, I decided that the best way to try and solve this issue would be to create a free-multiverse repositroy. To do this, I hacked together a bash script that would compare sid-main with ubuntu-multiverse (using packages lists I downloaded manually and removed the headers from) and pull any of the packages that overlapped between the two. I also got it to read an extras file, for packages that are in multiverse but not sid main, but yet are still free.

So, I now have a demonstration free-multiverse (which I call multistanza). This is currently hosted on my own pc, so will dissapear at night. If you are interested, try this link. compare.sh is the main script and the repo an be added as “deb http://bjwebb.homelinux.com:81/multistanza/ binary-i386/”. I will look for some off site hosting if I decide to pursue this further. If anyone does use my repo, I suggest using it in conjunction with medibuntu (see below).

But, the question is. Is this the best way to pursue this? What I’ve done so far has been no loss to me, because I’ve learnt some more bash scripting; but it is only worth continuing if my new repositry will be of use to other people. Thus, it would be a good idea to know if this has been done already. As far as I know, it hasn’t quite been done the way I want it. However, there is medibuntu, which contains packages not allowed in ubuntu, and is separated nicely into free and non-free. In fact, since I have the repo added, some of the apps get pulled from medibuntu instead of my repo. Unfortunately, not all the packages in medibuntu are as new as the ubuntu ones (hence why my repo and medibuntu could be complimentary) and some are not there at all (vlc for example).

So, I think that the best and most consitent way of having a free “extras” repo, and to avoid duplication of effort, would be for medibuntu to offer all of the free packages in multiverse in their free repository. I think this would fit in with their goal, but I’m not sure if they’d agree. I will contact them about this issue, and see where to go from there.

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As anyone who has read other posts on this blog will know I feel quite strongly about software freedom. I try to use exclusively free software as far as I possibly can. However, unfortunately I do still use some propreitary software, for various reasons.

Nonetheless, I wish to strive to become better in this respect. Recently, I took a look at the 100% free software distribution gnewsense. Thing is, I’m still rather undecided about whether non-free firmware is a problem (topic for a future blogpost maybe) and gnewsense breaks the network cards on both my pcs, rendering it useless for me, until I buy new network cards of course 😀 (It also means that I have no compiz, due to graphics card firmware, and the fact that glx has been stripped out (this annoys me, no truly free 3D acceleration yet :S), but I can live without this. The internet, I basically can not).

And, there is also the fact that my belief in the importance of free software has been wavering a bit (I know it is important, I’ve just been wondering how important – I’ll elaborate more in athoer blog post). But, I decided I was at a point where I wanted to try to remove all the tradiotional non-free software. By this I mean software that is regared by everyone by non-free, is not GPL’d etc. In fact most distributions have this content in a separate repository.

On Ubuntu (which I use on my main PC), this software is put into the multiverse. I decided today that I would cut myself off from this repository completely. It should be no harm for me, as I do not use any of these apps, flash and java were installed, but only for other people (gnash and icedtea ftw). However, the thing that is really annoying me is that by disabling multiverse, it is not only non-free software that I can not download, it is also perfectly free software with some sort of legal problem (patents, DMCA). The two groups of software are not the same thing for me (being a freedom lover and patent and DMCA hater), so it is a great inconvenience if the two are just lumped together!!!!!!

I want to be able to have all free software enabled (including that with patent issues etc.) but no non-free software. With ubuntu, I can’t do this – all I can do is pick debs out of multiverse by hand! For this reason, I’m thinking of switching to a distro that does not lump non-free and possibly troublesome together, the obvious choice, I think would be Debian (Sid, I think). Already, I had realised I would be comfortable with debian (I use it on another machine), but given that ubuntu is considered more user friendly and will do anything Debian will do, I had no incentive to switch. Now I do!

I wonder if I can update my current hardy installation to Sid. Its probably not advisable, but given that I have a fallback Kubuntu partion, I might just give it a go, for the hell of it.

Another thing I was wondering, is that I do decide to go freedom crazy (and hate non-free firmware). Then what distro would I choose? Not gnewsense I don’t think, because that doesn’t ship the free software that ubuntu lumps in multiverse. Annoyingly, there doesn’t seem to be a freefree distro based on pure debian. Maybe gnewsense could be tweaked to be based on debian (project for the summer holdiays maybe).

Okay, I just spoke to the gnewsense guys, and it would probably be easier to create a “free multiverse repo”. So, I might not switch to Debian afterall. Then again I might. And everything could change if I manage to buy a new ethernet card. Watch this space 🙂

Self referencial note: This blog is almost like a conversation with myself. I either leave too long before writing or am still making up my mind whilst I’m writing. The latter is definitely better though.

Yesterday, me and a couple of friends went to see a talk in Manchester by Richard Stallman (rms), the founder of the free software movement. I’m not sure quite how much the other two got from the experience, but I certainly found it very interesting – although I knew many of the things he said, it was the way he explained them, and it also provoked me to think about certain things.

One of the biggest things was Richards unfaltering commitment to the four freedoms as moral imperatives. One thing he explained particularly well, that I’d known for a while, but found difficult to explain was the problem with free software not allowing people to do certain tasks (e.g. use a printer, due to the technical incompleteness) and yet still claim to be liberating them. His explanation, which I will use from now on, is that something like this is not about freedom, it is about convenience. The two are completely separate, even though people are sometimes try to lump them together.

Of course, that then raises the question for me personally: How committed am I? What inconveniences am I prepared to face? This was really brought home to me by part of his talk specifically about schooling. Not only did one of his apologies compare roughly to my own experience (free software is great for learning for children who want to know how stuff works, unfortunately, I was still part of the proprietary software world during most of my childhood, so I missed out). But, also he was talking about how exclusively Free Software is an absolute must in schools, for four reasons:

  • Its much cheaper, and schools have tight budgets as it is
  • To prevent proprietary software companies from locking in, or “addicting” children
  • Given that the four freedoms are important, the most important people to teach these ethics to are our children. Rms gave his example that children should be willing to and able to share anything they bring to class, whether that be sweets or software
  • Free software provides a much better way for eager students to learn how software works (as explained above)

However, what struck me most, was again, how he talked about achieving it. That those who care about Free Software, such as myself, should refuse to use the proprietary software in schools. I’m currently wary of doing this, especially for diplomacy, but it is certainly something I should consider doing. Then, there’s the point of whether I can avoid proprietary software entirely – really, it is something I should aim for, and am working towards, but when am I going to take the plunge entirely.

Something I found interesting, especially as it will be one of ADFA‘s campaigns, is his stance on webapps. Using computers in the way he does, he sees no need for them, and points out that you are giving up a certain amount of control to your data (whether the server runs free software or not), something that I had pointed out on the ADFA project. However, the thing that I had not thought about, was the fact that these apps run software on the users machine, in the form of languages such as javascript. It is these scripts that must be under a free software license for webapps to be 4-freedoms-compatible. I’m still not sure whether this is a terribly big issue, but it is definitely something to campaign for – particularly since freeing these scripts would not cause much loss to the companies, escpecially as the source code is already availible anyway.

One less important, but interesting thing I took away from the talk was a fresh look on the whole Linux naming controversy. What I am trying to campaign for is free software as a right, not just Linux as a system or open source being good technically. Since what I am striving for is most similar to GNU/FSF than any other project, using the name GNU should really be a good thing. My main issue with GNU/Linux was that it sounded technical and off-putting. However, I hope to use the term “GNULinux” from now on (to avoid the “slash”). Really this is not so off-putting, especially since a gnu is also an animal, so those who won’t appreciate “funny” acronyms don’t need to know about them. And, if you are trying to market simply as a software product, then just use the distro name like Ubuntu – however, I don’t just want to market a product, so from now on, I hope to make an effort to mention GNU. Linux might be shorter to say, but surely we can at least use GNULinux as the “full name” for the system.

Another minor, but useful thing was how he answered the question about the loss of jobs if the whole world moved towards free software (aka. free software is communist, developers can’t make money etc.). He pointed out something I’d not quite grasped. Within the computing market, jobs actually developing software are only a small section, and only a small section in that is creating proprietary software (the rest is building custom software, which as long as the one user of the software has the four freedoms is completely ethical – giving people software and restricting there use of it is immoral, but not sharing at all is just a bit mean). The worse that could possibly happen is that this small section within a section would disappear. Not a problem at all, considering that it is entirely possible to get jobs developing free software! Someone raised the issue of one person propreitary software developers no longer being able to make money, and rms pointed out the argument we too often overlook – that nobody has a right to make money if they are exploiting people (in fact, he told the person that he hoped their business failed!). Free software is about encouraging a completely different mindset and ethos.

Finally, after watching Richard auction  I’ve re-realised it would be good to read some of the free software movements literature. So now, I want to get my hand on Free as in Freedom and Free Software Free Society, as well as the ancap books Wikiacc mentioned in response to my previous posts.

PS: I left this a day before writing this. I reawlly ought to improve my blogging style and use a notebook or something.

PSS: Point in case, I’ve already found myself adding a major paragraph to this, I’ll probably find myself adding more to this as it comes to my head. I need a small pocket sized notebook!

I’ve not posted here for a couple of weeks, which has been for a variety of reasons. Basically, I’ve not had much of interest to post. My AS exams are fast approaching so I’m busy preparing for those, which means that ADFA has not really got started (although a few of us will be going to hear Richard Stallman talk in Manchester next week, which I’m sure I’ll be able to blog about) and it also means that I’ve also not done any particularly interesting technical things. Another factor has been a fiasco involving a website, which I won’t elaborate on.

However, one thing I have been thinking about, is freedom in the wider world (ie. not just software freedom). I have always been a great supporter of peoples freedoms. Every human being has rights, yay for the the Geneva convention etc. Of course, I thought, some rights are more important than others. And we need a government to intervene when different people’s freedoms/rights collide. As far as I understood politics, I considered myself a liberalist – individual freedom is very important, which, in my opinion, includes the rights to be happy, well educated etc.

The government, of course, restricts our freedoms: takes our money and stops us doing things, even when those aren’t harmful to other people. Of course, I have always accepted, and been taught to accept this as necessary to safeguard, other more important rights. However, I’ve recently been made aware by Daniel and Kevin on the libervis IRC channel to the possibility of a stable society without government. The idea being that although every person has fundamental rights (to life, liberty and property), those rights are enforced not by one single monopolistic* organisation, but by the free market. That is, if someone violates your rights you can hire a company to recoup damages off him. Also, people who do immoral things will become known for doing so (increasingly easy in the age of the internet) so people will not “do business with them”**. This concept is called anarcho-captitalism (an-cap for short) or the laissez-faire market.

Anarcho-capitalism, as long as it remained stable, would protect most of peoples rights, in fact most even more so than our current system. However, even if it were to be stable, my main doubt is whether it would discriminate against poor people. I’ve always been a great fan of the public health and education service we have in the UK – the same services for all; but of course, you would not have these without a government and taxation.

The answer to this, I guess, is that all people would be able to afford these services through a combination of charity, sponsorship and providing some kind of service. The last is the kind of idea that poorer people would get affordable healthcare and schooling by agreeing to take part in scientific studies etc, to be monitored. Whilst this idea my actually work, in my mind, the concept conjures up images of poorer people having to earn the medicine they need to stay alive by being human guinea pigs and being subjected to all sort of chemicals. I guess, once again, it falls down to the fact that there would be a free market. People would be able to vote with their feet against the things that they do not like and would be able to support things they do think are right through charity. In fact, I think that if people weren’t taxed, people would naturally be more generous, and unlike the way that taxation works, would donate to the causes that really matter to them.
Of course, one of the other arguments is that in an an-cap society there would be less poverty, so there would not be so much of an issue. However, I am not yet so convinced about this; although lack of government restrictions in this area would be good in many ways.

One of my biggest issues with the practicality of anarcho-capitalism, although a really great ideal, is the fact that it depends on people making thought through choices, preventing any bad things by making the right decisions about who to do business with. I’m not sure if a lot of people are capable of making that decision for themselves, at least not as they are. For it to work smoothly, an an-cap society seems to require better more conscientious people – doubleplushuman.

Perhaps a lot of people would be willing to become more active. In fact a lot of the reason people don’t care now, is because they have the government to look after them, but, as they often point out, the government doesn’t really listen to them. And, one of the greatest things about anarcho-capitalism, is the free choice. If you want to, you can choose your own government (a corporation who will look after you, in return for a tax-like fee), or even establish small idealistic groups. (If you and friends bought a plot of land, no-one would stop you setting up a commune there!) The whole point is, people would have the choice as to how they want to live. A great dream, but one that will take quite a while to achieve (its about evolution not revolution) and one that I’m not even sure is practical yet.

* That’s something that I find really ironic. The fact that I naturally dislike and disapprove of massive corporations which have way too much power and control, and yet, have accepted the government, which is by its very definition a monopoly, without a moments thought.
However, one of the problems you could suggest with a free market, is the tendency for monopolistic businesses to grow. But, monopolies tend to use government contracts and legislation to their advantage. In anarcho-capitalism, it would be much easier for new, smaller businesses to compete.

** When there is no government, “do business” can mean a lot more than trade. If someone initiates force against somewhere else, the majority of a town might forbid him to use there land as a path and he would become an outcast.

So there you have it, another quasi-essay, another splurge of my thoughts on the web. But, for once, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, I’m still trying to work out where I really stand in the messy landscape of real world politics.

However, if you are interested, take a look at the philosiphy of liberty flash animation and there is also the Wikipedia article, and further information can be found here, here, here and here. My thoughts on the issue have been heavily influenced by Daniel’s and Kevin’s blogs.

I’ve not posted for a couple of weeks (the Easter break). I was away on holiday for one week, and the other week has been spend doing homework and decorating, but also working on my new pet project – ADFA.

ADFA, which stands for Audenshaw Digital Freedom Association, is my attempt to start raising awareness of Digital Freedom issues in my local community (mainly my school). These are going to be issues like the problems of DRM, the concept of sofwtare liberty and the idea that copying is not theft.

Over the break, I have built a website listing the different projects that the association would pursue and also, an explanation of our (read my) views on each of the issues. (Although there doesn’t seem as much stuff on their as I’d thought I’d written). Hopefully this will be a useful resource for anyone who I talk to who is interested and also a good way for us to work out what direction we are going in.

I have no idea whether this project is going to suceed or not. Even if it doesn’t I have a nice resource of all my thoughts on the issue. However, I know I already have some supporters, so hopefully well be able to achieve this.

Wish me luck, and tell me what you think of the site and its content.

I’ve switched to the Ubuntu Hardy Beta as my main OS, which is also a switch from using KDE to using GNOME. However the DE switch didn’t really affect me much.

The main things I like about GNOME is the fact that firefox and compiz integrate well (the later is probably partly the ubuntu team’s work.

However, I do have a few issues with the system (which isn’t surprising for a beta).

  • Firefox 3 can not handle apt: links properly without being told where the apturl binary is.
  • Firefox plugins (ie. java and flash) do not load as expected and I had to do some jiggling to get it to work. (Firefox seems to look in /usr/lib/firefox-3.0 and /usr/lib/xulrunner-1.9b4, but surprisingly not /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins or /usr/lib/firefox/plugins)
  • The add user dialog box does not work (probably due to bugs in the new policykit  integration)

And there a few things I would like to see added in future versions:

  • The ability to restore items from the trash
  • A passwordless login option for gdm (I solved this rather messily by using null passwords for non sudoer users)
  • Policykit intergration into more apps. It would be great if the “permission denied” dialog in gedit would let me esculate to root, it would save me so much time.

I also found pidgin to be an annoyance. It does not show msn personal messages which for me, is quite important. In fact, I am now using Emesene, which is designed specifically for the WLM (aka msn) network so does the important things like personal messages, offline messages and even has a plugin for the Plus! colours. Also, it is quite similar to the layout of the official client without the ugliness that aMSN has. All in all, I would recommend it it as a drop in replacement for people who currently use the MS client, especially as it is still being actively developed.

I also had a mess about with the gnome themes, which despite what the KDE folk might say, was nicely customizable.  I got interested in the application transparency that murrine can provide. Unfotunately, this is only available in the svn build. So, no problem – im confortable with compiling my own stuff. However, I wanted to try and install it via a deb package, to make future maintenance easier. So, I’ve been trying out packaging which isn’t all that hard, once you get the hang of it. Hopefully I’ll be able to put these skills to use. I’m building up a (very small) apt repository.

So, in the end after some “learning” (can be frustrating sometimes) I got murrine installed. So, a few plugins later and I have transparent apps (fwiw emesene has support built in).  However, there were a couple of things bothering me:

  1. tbh, its not all that great – just the transparent gnome-terminal would have sufficed for me. It looks a bit messy at times (perhaps more blur is needed?)
  2. Why is this not in the distros yet? Vista has had this for a year! Where is the innovation of the open source community? Or is the answer see 1, is it just not a big deal to most people?

Not only do I believe that free software, or freedomware as I like to call it, is the moral way of doing software, making me more or less a subscriber to the FSFs views.

However, I have only been aware of freedomware for a couple of years now. I really do appreciate the freedom it gives me, to be in control over my own computer; to use my computer how I want.

Also, I’m increasingly of the belief that growing up with propeitary software was actually bad for me. I am, and always been inquisitive. From when I first had a computer, I wanted to find out how stuff worked, and how I could do the same thing. For example, not soon after I started regularly using the internet, I was right clicking and selecting view source to copy and tweak parts for my own HTML documents. As a result of that and the following learning process I am not quiet proficient in XML and can also code my own PHP scripts.

However, the big thing that Windows, and proprietary software in general prevents you from doing is looking at the source code. This restricted me greatly I’m sure of it. I still remember my futile attempts to run code in the same way other applications were run. I thought that the “proper” ways of doing it cost money, lots of money (most development tools are hundreds of pounds). Therefore, I was limited to batch scripting and yabasic etc.

Its so painful in hindsight to realise that wonderful things that were out there. Open code that I could look at and modif, just like I did web pages. Free (in both senses) compilers so that I could make my own applications that ran in the same way as professionals.  However, I could not see these things – I only knew the proprietary world I had entered in. I could not create, innovate or learn to my full potential because of these restrictions, at a time, as a child were I could have developed greatly.

Yes, I truly believe proprietary software hindered my personal development, and I will forever loathe it for that.

Note: This post is from the point of view of someone trying to avoid proprietary software because I believe proprietary software is immoral (many of the things here help explain this). If you don’t share this view, this post probably shouldn’t concern you.
Also, if you are trying to avoid it, like me, then you might want to consider switching to Gnash and IcedTea for Flash and Java. (These are what I use)

On Saturday I recorded a podcast with two of the other people from Teenlug: Zach (zoglesby) and Rob (x_rob). Due to the distances we live apart, VOIP was the only option and we ended up using the propeitary Skype.

Its true that an alternative exists, the open protocol SIP and its many open source clients. But the truth is, these aren’t really that good. There is no consistent text chat, no presence notification and much of the time, the sound quality is abysmal (which can be seen in the other podcast I was in, TuxTeens). Also, because these are normally small projects, Phone to PC calls are either not available or not competitively priced.

So, there you have one of the reasons why I use propeitary software, despite not wanting to, even at home. The others are compatibility testing (one of the main things I code is webpages, so I use IEs4linux) and programs I need for school – luckily this is only one program (containing information about Physics) which runs perfectly under wine.

For the second thing, I would recommend free website snapshoting tools, but these only do so much. Whenever I code something ajaxy I need to test it in a live browser. However, I think I am probably prepared to live with this in the mean time. It is a symptom of other peoples dependency on non-free software, not so much mine.

The VOIP problem is, of course, the tricky one. I am in danger of becoming locked into Skype, because everyone else having the conversation needs to use the same protocol. However, I don’t find this such a major issue as most of the people I want to talk to are in favor of open source, and would be happy to use a good open source alternative. The thing is, most of the alternatives are nowhere near the quality (interface or sound) of skype. If people are to be convinced to use freedom respectful, this is something we need to improve.

Of course, it would make sense to build upon the existing technologies. One way to do it would be to build upon the XMPP protocol (used by Jabber), which provides text messaging and presence notification, and add audio and video. This is what google did with Google Talk, and although this is a proprietary program, Google are working towards an open source library. However, FOSS support for this protocol is experimental.

Or you could take SIP and attach text messaging and presence notification. This is what a project called openwengo are doing. This is the project I am most interested in, because it should be compatible with other skype clients (although the added bits would not work) and it doesn’t involve using experimental versions of kopete etc.

Edit: Although Wengo has precense notification, it does not have text chat. 😦

However, to properly test these technologies, I need someone (maybe even several people) to call.
Any volunteers?

I believe that in an ideal world, we should all have freedom over our computing environment. And, I want to work to help achieve this dream.

However, I don’t feel like I’ve done much recently to further the causes of Free Software, despite that being something I want to do. Therefore, I am trying to think of ways I can do this. These fall into two basic categories

  1. Helping improve software in the Free Software Community
  2. Helping with existing efforts to raise awareness of Free Software generally
  3. Helping raise awareness of Freedomware in my local community

Although the first is something I’d like to do, perhaps starting off by alpha/beta testing Ubuntu Hardy (watch this space), I believe that for me, at this time, raising awareness is more important. This is because its not specifically Linux/Ubuntu I want to improve – Linux is not that important – instead, I want people to realise that software liberty is important (and possibly choose Linux because of that).

The second should be fairly easy to do, I just need to hang around the GGL specific Nuxified forum a bit more. In fact, one of the GNU/Linux Matters ideas particularly interests me – UndeclaredRight.Info – but it doesn’t seem to have got anywhere yet. Perhaps I could be the person to get it started.

Libervis also seems like something I want to become more part of, but its more a group for discussing these issue rather than advocating them. And, I’m already a regular participant in #libervis anyway.

However, the thing is, I’m not really sure how to go about doing the third.”Local community” probably translates to my school. Thing is though, from talking to people about Software Liberty so far, I have had a rather negative response. At best, people are interested, in agreement with some of the things, but not bothered enough to take it further themselves; at worst, I give people a bad impression of Freedomware – my “advocacy” has a negative effect if any at all.

I’m not sure how I can overcome this. Perhaps over time I’ll get better at explaining it and making it relevant? Or perhaps I need a new approach. We have a “lesson” called enrichment, where speakers come in to do talks, and our teacher has suggested that students could talk about something important to them. An ideal opportunity? Maybe, if I managed to pull it off. If I don’t, I’ll just give freedomware a bad name in the minds of a lot of young people :S

Perhaps I should start a Freedomware group? I know there’s at least one person that would join. But similar to the enrichment idea we could get a lot ridicule and our efforts might fail miserably.

In addition I’d like to get more Freedomware into schools in the UK generally, but I have no idea at all where I can start working towards that.

:S :S :S

I’ve done a bit with wine the last few days. I tried to get a few of my windows to run for myself, albeit not very successfully – mainly because I don’t really need them anyway.

Then, yesterday, I was given the task of getting WoW and the Orange box to work on a friends Kubuntu install ( 😦 my only convert). Annoyingly, the problem was not really wine, but a bug in the drivers of the intel graphics card..

I fixed this by editing some WoW graphics options, the opengl one (of course), but the biggest improvement seemed to be this tweak, despite the fact that it is designed for ATI cards. (Although, tbh I tried most of the things further up that page as well.)

As for the Orange Box, after much fustration, I found that I could get counterstrike and team fortress to work by using a “Launch Option” that reduced the version of Direct X that was used (to 7.0 for these games).

Thing is though, it seemed to take me ages to fix, much longer than I thought it would. Especially, as I didn’t manage to get all of the Orange Box to work (in particular Portal), I felt little sense of achievement. Perhaps this is just the nature of fixing things: if something is broke (especially after following application specific tutorials in the case of wine), then the problem is likely to be something you wouldn’t expect, and is by its nature hard to find.

Hmmmmmm, I wonder if anyone will understand the above, I hardly do myself :D. *Sigh* I guess thats what happens when you let your thoughts stew in your mind for a day. I guess the thing with writing stuff down is you need to do it whilst the thoughts are still fresh in your mind.