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Tuesday, January 19 2010

The Likely Victims of This Year's BSA raid: Internet Cafe's and Other Computer Rental Businesses

Do you run a business that involves any form of computer rental such as internet cafe, for-profit computer training center, and/or hotel that provides computers for the convenience of the guests? Do you live in a country like Taiwan where BSA (Business Software Alliance) does yearly raid to small and medium businesses with the help of your government because they are pressured by, or have some inconvenient relationship with BSA? My guess is that BSA will target this new group of software "pirates" -- yes even if they have already paid for the first layer of the Microsoft taxes. But there is a way -- maybe even a much more profitable way -- out if you are willing to try diskless computers + mother tongue bootable usb keys.

Recently Microsoft quietly made it legal for businesses to rent Windows and/or Office. See for example Preston Gralla's "Windows and Microsoft Office rental: Much less than meets the eye" or Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols's "Windows goes rental". An MS Windows/Office user would be naive to read this as a good news -- especially if s/he runs a business that rents computers but has never bothered to read MS EULA (specifically, point 5).

For according to the EULA, all internet cafe's are illegal businesses -- you hear it right -- even if you have already paid for the licenses for all copies of Windows and Offices on your computers. The very act of renting it to your customers violates the EULA. So the right way to interpret MS's recent move is that: after paying MS the first time for each and every copy of your software, you can now become a legal business once you pay the second layer of the MS taxes for the privilege of renting it to your customers. How nice and charitable! Big applauses and touching music for the generous Emperor, please!

Maybe this is a good time to try a new, intimidation-free, more ethical, and more profitable alternative for your business. I will address specifically to internet cafe owners, but other computer rental businesses may also find similar opportunities using the same technology. (See the "usb boot" tag for more applications.) Consider allocating a portion of your computers to serve foreign visitors instead of the local kids playing online games. Remove their harddisks so that they are as easy to manage as a TV -- no viruses, no software crashes, no upgrades, only "power on" and "power off". Put a sign "Mother Tongue Internet Cafe" outside your business and also mark it on google maps with this term. Sell your customer a linux bootable usb key preloaded with his/her language(s), make a good profit while giving your customer a home-welcoming experience that s/he never has had elsewhere. Ask a local Linux business for technical help and share your profits with them. Then decide for yourself: which part of your business makes more sense? The windows machines with the two layers of taxes that do nothing to save you from the constant crashes and virus attacks, or the zero-management diskless machines plus the highly profitable usb key sales? Oh, yes, it is a good thing to distribute free software for a fee.

If your government truly cares about anti-piracy and also about promoting local economical activities such as tourism and a local computer industry, you should definitely explain the ideas in this article and the "internet mother tongue" article to them, maybe with the help of a local LUG (Linux User Group). We all linux users are eager to see which country is the first to tout about its friendliness towards foreigner visitors in this respect.

Sunday, October 11 2009

Please Advocate Mono to Your Employer

The mono debates [1 and 2] seem to refuse to die down. I have a proposal to settle this -- by voting. But not voting for or against mono. Let each of the voters puts his or her stake at her mouth (Please help me with a better phrase) in a symmetric way. So a mono advocate would vote by a blog post or something saying, "I, [insert your name here], recommend my employer, [insert your company's name here], to use software linked with Mono. I am willing to lose my job if my company ever gets threatened by or has to pay for the patent directly related to this library." (Again, phrasing help needed please.)

And a mono skeptic like me would vote, (by this very blog post by the way) saying, "I, Chao-Kuei Hung, recommend my employer, Chaoyang University of Technology, to use software linked with gtk and qt. I am willing to lose my job if my company ever gets threatened by or has to pay for the patent directly related to these libraries."

Now, the point is not that the assurance of a non-lawyer Chao-Kuei Hung counts at all. (In fact my Univ completely ignores my constant recommendations to use ODF for long term archiving considerations. They wouldn't even know what mono is.) And the point is not that anyone would care about me losing my job when the bad things about patents happen. The point is that the voter dares to bet his reputation for the software libraries that he considers safer in terms of legal threats. Nor is it important how much each voter's reputation counts. The more reputation a voter has, the more he risks, and the more credit/weight his votes would naturally carry. In other words, not all votes are equal.

The world at large can then have a good picture of how (legally) safe each of these groups -- the mono advocates, gtk advocates, and qt advocates -- really think and feel about what they advocate. Now of course, Microsoft employees and Novell employees don't count for the mono votes since their employers are the very ones whose patent shadow over mono worries the world. Similarly, [please help me fill in some company names here] employees don't count for the gtk votes, and [please help] employees don't count for the qt votes. There is nothing specific against these companies; their exclusion is simple logic. And one can vote for more than one library, as I did.

Hopefully from now on everyone will declare his/her vote before speaking about the mono issue, and this will become the most convincing way of advocating for any library -- mono or any alternatives.


Please comment about logic, feasibility, English grammar, spelling, etc. Personal attacks directing at Richard Stallman, Miguel de Icaza, Jo Shields, Pamela Jones, or any single person, will not be deleted. These comments will receive personalized taunts and ridicules with logic. (OK, I can't promise, but I will try my best.)

Tuesday, June 2 2009

Flottes de Tux de clefs d'USB pour aller hardiment où aucun Windows n'est allé avant

[Thanks to Odile for translating my English article "Tux Fleets of USB Keys to Boldly Go Where No Windows Has Gone Before" into French.]

Tux fleets of usb keys are about to boldly go where no Windows
has gone before Microsoft a peur des clés USB -- « stylos USB ». Les flottes de clés USB avec Tux à leur tête vont bientôt pénétrer des contrées qu'aucune Fenêtre (Windows) n'a ouvertes devant eux. A nous d'accélérer le processus en mettant en évidence les occasions internationales dans des villages lointains, les expériences multilingues dans des événements internationaux, et les ordinateurs sans disque dur.

Il y a quelques mois, un projet de loi a été examiné à Taïwan pour demander au gouvernement d'instaurer une priorité pour les machines capables de démarrer sur clé USB sans aucune intervention de l'utilisateur. Il ne s'agissait pas de forcer les représentants du gouvernement à utiliser Linux sur clé USB. Il ne s'agissait pas non plus de les forcer à utiliser Linux. C'était seulement une modeste requête que le BIOS soit configuré pour qu'il soit possible de démarrer automatiquement sur clé USB, de même que cela a été le cas dans le passé pour le démarrage sur disquette, et ensuite sur CD-ROM. Et par voie de conséquence de rendre plus utile la deuxième vie de ces ordinateurs, quand ils auront été cédés à des villages reculés après avoir fini leur service auprès du gouvernement. Microsoft a refusé catégoriquement, sur la base d'arguments fallacieux, manipulant la réalité. Notre tentative a échoué, mais elle révèle que Microsoft a réellement peur du boot sur clé USB. Il ne faut pas nous préoccuper de ce que MS pense. Il faut nous occuper de nos oignons et pénétrer bravement ces pays qu'aucune Fenêtre n'a jamais visitée. Soit justement ce qui effraie MS :-)

Ouvrons les yeux en dehors de la communauté des informaticiens. Allons parler aux personnes qui se préoccupent de la fracture numérique. Nous pouvons installer des salles informatiques dans des écoles de villages inaccessibles. Nous pouvons distribuer des clés USB remplies de logiciels éducatifs et scientifiques à tous les enfants. - Non, pas des logiciels de bureautique, plutôt ceux présents sur le Cédérom Freeduc-Science, ou équivalent. -  A la bibliothèque de l'école, on peut retaper les clés USB endommagées. Avec tout cela, les enseignants auront bien moins de soucis pour administrer leur salle informatique. Nous pouvons envoyer par courrier postal des clés USB créées par des LUGs, dans des versions récentes, vers les destinations les plus lointaines. Voyez cet article dans Hello, UNESCO ?

Ouvrons les yeux en dehors de la communauté des informaticiens. Allons parler aux organisateurs de conférences ou autres événements internationaux, événements sportifs, expositions.... On peut installer des ordinateurs sans disque dur mais avec connexion Internet dans deux ou trois sites comme par exemple les villages sportifs. On peut demander à chaque visiteur de choisir sa langue de prédilection et lui fournir une clé USB Linux bootable dans sa langue. Faire en sorte que les sportifs se sentent comme chez eux lors de cet événement -- du moins en ce qui concerne la lecture du courriel, la messagerie instantanée et l'accès au web. Laissons-les s'émerveiller en constatant que l'ordinateur qui parlait coréen il y a un instant parle maintenant japonais. C'est ce que je vais faire pour ma part lors de la conférence universitaire EASTS, dans quelques semaines.

Ouvrons les yeux en dehors de la communauté des informaticiens. Allons parler aux organismes qui aident les étudiantes à se rendre à l'étranger pour y poursuivre leurs études. Démontrons-leur qu'une clé USB Linux-bootable -- ou même plus d'une, pour la sauvegarde -- peut se révéler providentielle en cas de panne matérielle du portable qu'elles ont apporté avec elles. Cela ne leur prendra pas longtemps pour choisir, entre l'utilisation de ce "système d'exploitation inhabituel" qui parle leur langue maternelle avec leurs camarades restés au pays, et le manque laissé par un système Windows peut-être gentiment familier, mais mort. Elles réaliseront alors que des non-informaticiens ont droit eux aussi à un mode de vie informatique compatible avec les principes du développement durable.

Ouvrons les yeux en dehors de la communauté des informaticiens. Allons parler aux entreprises de tourisme, notamment aux groupements hôteliers. Expliquons-leur qu'ils peuvent offrir à leurs clients un service Internet dans leur propre langue, lors de leur séjour dans son établissement. Les hôtels pourraient louer des ordinateurs sans disque dur et vendre des clés USB. Suggérons au groupement d'organiser l'enregistrement des hôtels sur un wiki ou sur une carte, pour que chaque visiteur étranger puisse localiser à l'avance, le long de son itinéraire, les professionnels qui offrent ce service. Lisez aussi cet article.

Vous voyez la partie bleue ? Elle vous donne une idée de la situation. Allons parler aux non-informaticiens, particuliers et/ou entreprises, qui ont intérêt à la mobilité et aux capacités multilingues mais qui n'ont pas osé ou pas su exiger de MS de tels privilèges. N'hésitez pas à partager d'autres idées d'utilisation ici, dans les commentaires de ce billet. Dites-nous aussi si vous voyez d'autres aspects du monde du libre qui soient des avantages immédiatement perceptibles, par rapport au monde privateur des logiciels propriétaires. Puis-je également insister sur le fait qu'il sera plus facile de trouver des idées en pensant "combinaison" -- peut-être avec autre chose que du logiciel comme des contenus sous license libre (par exemple sous Creative Commons). Le monde privateur s'asphyxie par manque d'un mécanisme simple permettant la coopération en toute légalité. Les activités qui requièrent une combinaison de plusieurs ressources numériques révèlent plus directement la supériorité de notre culture libre et des proriétés Web 2.0.

Mais revenons à notre sujet : pourquoi mettre l'accent sur les ordinateurs sans disque dur ? En quoi les ordinateurs habituels, qui savent démarrer sur une clé USB sans intervention de l'utilisateur, ne sont-ils pas aussi utiles ? Je vois au moins trois raisons à cela.

Première raison : l'histoire de l'évolution des acteurs dominants. Il s'agit d'abaisser les barrières à l'entrée. L'important n'est pas le prix d'achat, mais le coût de l'ensemble maintenance + administration. Et aussi la barrière psychologique à l'entrée. Une directrice d'établissement hôtelier ne devrait pas avoir à se préoccuper des mises à jour, des pannes ou des virus d'un ordinateur. (Vous verrez, nous aurons des tas de virus Linux dès que le système deviendra dominant -- peut-être pas aussi graves que ceux pour Windows mais assez ennuyeux et dommageables tout de même.) Notre directrice s'intéressera peut-être plus volontiers à un téléviseur cassé. C'est pourquoi nous devons mettre l'accent sur les avantages des ordinateurs sans disque dur -- comparons-les aux téléviseurs plutôt qu'aux ordinateurs traditionnels. En abaissant la barrière a l'entree, nous ouvrirons un marché beaucoup plus vaste pour Linux et nous contournerons la position dominante de Windows. C'est ce qui s'est passé quand Apple II a ignore la position dominante du mainframe IBM (sans le remplacer complètement). C'est ce qui s'est passe quand Wintel a ignore la position dominante des produits Apple (sans les remplacer completement). Et c'est aussi ce que se passe maintenant : nous ne verrons probablement pas l' « année du bureau Linux » comme un exode massif d'utilisateurs anciens qui plaqueraient leurs fenetres en faveur de Linux. Nous avons plus de chances de voir un nombre incroyable de nouveaux "ordinateurs" Linux aller la ou aucune fenetre n'a penetre avant eux. Les OLPC, les gphones, openmoko et netbook sont les manifestations de ce phenomene. Les cles USB pourraient etre un autre exemple -- il suffit que les gens se rendent compte de l'interet des PC sans disque dur.

Deuxième raison : l'innovation peut venir plus vite quand les composants sont pris un par un. Les développements sont faits par des équipes séparées, les résultats pouvant être combinés librement par tout le monde. Il faut que je termine ma lecture de The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it, du Jonathan Zittrain, car ce livre me fournira une meilleure argumentation. Cependant, il est déjà clair que les mécanismes d'innovation encouragés par les Bug Labs peuvent se révéler des accélérateurs de l'application du logiciel libre à des zones de vie qui n'ont pas encore été imaginées. Plus concrètement, en séparant les fournisseurs de matériel informatique et les fournisseurs de clés USB, de nombreuses distribution Linux un peu moins connues peuvent être soudain rendues visible au public. Réfléchissez un instant à la physionomie du marché si HP ou pour Acer se mettaient à pré-installer Artistx spécifiquement pour les artistes. Avec les ordinateurs sans disque dur, ce monde-là est possible et bien d'autres encore.

En fin, lorsque les ordinateurs sans disque dur seront vendus très largement, la question de savoir quel système d'exploitation pré-installer deviendra futile. Les contraintes que MS fait peser sur les fournisseurs d'ordinateurs - bien que personne n'admette ouvertement leur existence - perdront leur point d'ancrage LINK. Nous ne savons pas comment MS a réussi à faire mettre Windows sur l'OLPC, l'eeepc, l'aspire, mais nous savons que MS devra se battre à armes plus égales dès qu'il ne sera plus possible de parler en secret à un petit nombre de fournisseurs de matériel.

Hilaire, connu pour son logiciel Dr. Geo, m'a monté ce produit encourageant : la G-Key ("G-clé"). La clé en elle-même n'est pas grand chose. Le grand intéret, c'est que leurs ordinateurs n'ont pas de disque -- même pas de mémoire flash. A l'autre bout de la formule, nous avons le producteur japonais Wizpy, qui intègre une clé USB bootable Turbolinux dans un téléphone portable. (Je ne n'ai aucun lien avec ces deux fabricants). Alors, rejoignez le mouvement : lançons des initiatives similaires dans le monde entier. Les flottes de clés USB, menées par GNU/Linux, iront bientôt fièrement conquérir les contrées encore vierges de toute Fenêtre.

Sunday, March 22 2009

Tux Fleets of USB Keys to Boldly Go Where No Windows Has Gone Before

Tux USB fleets are about to boldly go where no Windows
has gone before Microsoft is afraid of bootable Linux key drives. Tux USB fleets are about to boldly go where no Windows has gone before. Let's speed up this process by emphasizing educational opportunities in remote village, mutlilingual experiences in international events, and diskless computers.

A few months ago, we made a legislative attempt (zh_TW) to ask Taiwanese government in their procurement plans to prioritize machines supporting 0-keypress usb-key booting. It was not about forcing the government officials to use Linux on usb keys. It was not about forcing them to use Linux at all. It was a humble request that there be a way to set up the BIOS so that usb keys can be the first boot device without user intervention just like cdroms or floppies have always been, that these machines have a useful second life as donations to remote villages when they finish their services in the government. Microsoft adamantly objected (zh_TW), giving misleading responses that distort the truth. Our attempt failed, but it revealed that MS is really afraid of usb-booting. We shouldn't really care about what MS thinks. We should just mind our own business and boldly go where no windows has gone before. But that's exactly what MS is afraid of anyway :-)

Let's look away from the ICT community. Let's talk to people who care about digital divide. Labs with diskless computers can be set up in schools at remote villages. Linux-bootable usb keys loaded with scientific and educational software can be distributed to girls and boys. (No, we don't mean office apps, we mean apps offered by Freeduc-Science and the like.) School library is the place to restore the usb key if it gets messed up. Teachers will have much less hassle managing their labs. New versions of usb keys created by LUGs in the metropolitan can be delivered to the remote villages through snail mail. See full article in zh_TW.

Let's look away from the ICT community. Let's talk to organizers of international conferences or other international events such as sports and exhibitions. Diskless computers with internet connection can be set up at two or three sites such as the athletes' villages. Ask each foreign visitor to select her preferred language(s) and give her a linux-bootable usb key loaded with language(s) of her choice. Make them really feel at home in these events -- at least in terms of reading mails, instant messaging, and accessing the web. Let them marvel at the fact that the same computer that spoke Korean a few minutes ago now speakis Japanese. That's what I shall do with the EASTS academic conference in a few weeks.

Let's look away from the ICT community. Let's talk to businesses that help students to go abroad for degrees. Show them how a linux-bootale usb key (or a bunch of backup keys) can be heavenly helpful when the notebook computer an overseas student brings with him crashes. It won't be too hard to make a choice between having to use the "unfamiliar linux OS" in his own language to chat with his friends at the home country, and fretting over a sweetly familiar but dead windows. They will realize that non-techies, too, are entitled to a 80% computer-LOHAS life style.

Let's look away from the ICT community. Let's talk to the tourism business and specifically to the unions of hotels. Tell them how they could let their customers use their own languages to surf the net during their stay at the hotel. The hotels could lease the diskless computers and sell usb keys. Let's ask the union to organize the hotels to register in some wiki or googlemap, so that any foreign visitor can easily locate along her itinerary hotels that offer such service. See full article in zh_TW.

Do you see the cyan area? You get the idea. Let's talk to people and/or businesses who care about mobility and multilingual capability but who did not dare did not know they could ever ask MS for such privileges. Please share more possible applications in the comments. Please also let us know if you see interesting, immediately-perceivable aspects of FLOSS over the present combination of proprietary world other than mobility and multilingual capability. May I also add that we are more likely to find ideas when we think about "combination" -- maybe combination with things beyond software, such as cc-licensed digital contents. The proprietary world strangles themselves by failing to have a simple mechanism to cooperate. Tasks that require a combination of several digital resources more readily reveal the superiority of our free culture.

Back to the main point: why emphasize diskless computers? Why are ordinary computers supporting 0-key-press usb-booting not enough? I see at least three reasons for it.

history of change of dominant players First, it's about lowering the barrier of entry. It's not about the purchase cost, but rather the maintainence/management cost. It is also about the psychological barrier of entry. A hotel manager wouldn't want to deal with upgrades, crasheshes, and viruses of a computer. (Yes, we surely will have loads of Linux viruses when it becomes main stream -- maybe not as severe as in windows, but annoying or detrimental nontheless.) She might be more willing to deal with a broken TV set. And that's how we should emphasize the benefits of such arrangement -- by comparing it to a TV set instead of a traditional computer. By lowering the barrier, we will have a much larger market for linux, thereby ignoring the dominant position of windows. That's what happened when Apple II ignored the dominant position of IBM mainframe. That's what happened when Wintel ignored the dominant position of Apple II. That's also what's happening now: we probably won't see "the year of linux desktop" as an exodus of old timers ditching their windows in favor of linux. We are more likely to see an incredible number of new linux "computers" boldly go where no windows has gone before. OLPC, gphones, openmokos, and netbook are manifestation of this phenomenon. USB keys could be another example -- if only people realize how much less formidable a PC could be when it has no harddisks.

Secondly, innovation can be faster when the components are taken apart, the development are made by separate people/teams, and the result can be freely combined by anyone. I have yet to finish reading The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it by Jonathan Zittrain to have a better argument for this. Still, you can already see that the innovation mechanism encouraged by the Bug Labs may prove to be helpful to accerlate the application of FLOSS into previously unimagined areas of life. More concretely, by separating the hardware vendors from the bootable usb-key vendors, many less well-known linux distributions may suddenly become visible to the ordinary people. Think for a moment about how it would ever be possible for Asus or Acer to preload their PC's or notebooks with artistx specifically for the artists. Yet with diskless computers, this and a lot more analogous things can happen.

Finally, when hardware vendors start selling diskless computers, the debate as to which OS to pre-install will become moot. The shackle that MS places on the hardware vendors (though no one admits to its existence openly) will vanish.

Hilaire of the Dr. Geo fame showed me this encouraging product: the G-Key. (Disclaimer: I am not associated with them.) The key by itself is no big deal. The exciting part is that their computers don't have disks -- not even ssd's. Let's promote similar things all over the world. The Tux fleets of usb keys are about to boldly go where no windows has gone before.

Sunday, December 7 2008

Which is More Important? Open File Format or Free Software?

For the sake of free software, please help defend Taiwan from Microsoft's docx file format invasion. Please help odf plugin for firefox more than you do with the docx plugin. Otherwise, you could be hurting open file format as you contribute to one controversial piece of free software, and ultimately hurt the entire FS landscape as a whole.

* * * * *

This title sounds like a silly question. Open file formats serve everybody (except the monopolist), free software users and proprietary software users alike. Free software typically support open file formats by default, and then maybe also some popular proprietary file format by necessity. Is there ever a situation where supporting/writing free software hurts open file format?

Indeed there might just be one very interesting example: the docx plugin for firefox. I will leave the debate as to whether MS PL counts as a free software licnese to the philosophers. What I would like to argue is, whether this license is free enough, or even if this license is free enough, this particular piece of software is hurting us.

I have been writing a series of articles against the spread of docx file format by unconscious docx victims onto more new victims. Considering

  1. that most people are still using the old doc format,
  2. that switching to MS Office 2007 from old versions of MS Offices may require more training than switching to OO.o,
  3. that globally governments choose odf over ooxml,
  4. that the economy is down,
  5. that Taiwan government is under strong BSA pressure to fight piracy,
  6. that searching for office 2007 amusingly invites google and yahoo to suggest keywords related to office 2007 piracy searches,
  7. that docx is not even 100% the same as ooxml which barely passes thru the compromised ISO process as an international standard under controversies and with warnings from legal experts,

... considering all these reasons against adopting docx, you would think that my task cannot be too difficult. Difficult it really is. Taiwan is a country

  1. where computer is a synonym for Microsoft Windows,
  2. where IIS is far more popular than apache as web servers,
  3. where hardly anybody questions the fact that the nation-wide University entrance exam website demands the students to use IE (the registration page, which is now removed because the exam takes place in July).

That's fine. We will deal with these challenges with the wonderful technologies provided by the entire FS community as our support. Communities such as OFSET (of which I am a member) and technologies such as usb key booting have been greatly helpful to our advocacy endeavors. But now there is one little problem for which I have to explicitly beg for help: Can we have a better odt support than docx support in Firefox, please? I will omit a dozen or more criticisms on my anti-docx articles that I was able to counter. I will just present you this one small dialogue in which I end up wordless:
"Please, don't spread docx." (zh_TW)
"You act like a dictator, like a wolf cloaked as a sheep." (zh_TW)
"OK, whatever you feel like calling me. (zh_TW, with a funny picture explaining the difference between open file format and FS) But tell me, please, which is more like a dictator? Spreading docx or spreading odt?"
"Spreading odt is more like a dictator. With docx, I can view it with firefox."

I would like to ask the firefox docx plugin developers, bug reporters, document writers, and blogger who promote this plugin, to ponder these questions: Which is more important -- open file formats or free software? Would you rather develop and/or help spread FS at the price of hurting open file formats? Is there a more urgent need for docx or for odt compatibility in FF considering that docx [as offered by MS Office 2007 now] will be phased out even by Microsoft in favor of true OOXML? Would you please consider devoting your talents and efforts to help perfect and spread the odt plugin rather than the docx plugin? Of course I know you meant well when you joined such efforts. Besides, it is you, not me, who made more contributions to firefox. You get to decide how to spend your voluntary efforts. I would just like to ask you to consider the possibility that might have never occurred to you, that helping one specific piece of FS may actually hurt the entire FS landscape as a whole.

In Taiwan, we have made some progress in FF adoption, little progress in OO.o adoption, and virtually none in GNU/Linux desktop adoption. Now FF providing better docx compatibility than odt compatibility may hurt Taiwan's odf adoption, and ultimately hurt Taiwan's difficult escape from Microsoft's complete dominance. Admittedly Taiwan is but a small country. Yet it has a high concentration of hardware manufacturers. For example, if only hardware manufactures in Taiwan could be convinced to ship diskless computers, the debate about which OS to preload would become moot. Or even if only they could be convinced to ship motherboards that boot usb keys as its first priority, there could be some visibile changes in the awareness of GNU/Linux. (Please, urge your people to demand such computers when buying in large quantities.) Stopping the unconscious spread of docx and raising the adoption of both FF and OO.o at the same time, is crucial to the escape of Taiwan from Microsoft's control for the next few years.

I would also like to take this opportunity to ask for a legal/technical help. Can someone knowledgeable about both ooxml and DRM please enlighten me: How is it possible for a file format having backward compatibility with its DRM-enabled predecessor to have an implementation that is released under an OSI-approved license? I could not find enough relevant and deep discussions over this issue by searching "ooxml drm". What baffles me is simple logic: how can FLOSS ever be compatible with DRM, which operates under the principle of security by obscurity? I would appreciate if you don't bash OSI because of this and if you refrain from digressing into the debate between OSI and FSF over the name of Libre Software. I am most interested in debates over the oxymoron "open source DRM" using docx and its open source implementation as an example.

At the same time, I would also like to ask Sun and IBM and other big companies to devote a tiny bit of your resources to the odt plugin for firefox. As you both know very well that OO.o alone is not the most important driving force behind odt adoption. Choice is. Star Office and Lotus Symphony are among the list of software that supports odt. How about helping FF get into that list, or at least into the "readonly" list? Google, how about making chrome read and display odt? If so, we may even advocate chrome over firefox. Because, to me, open file format is more important than free software, if I ever have to make a choice. Because without true open file format free of DRM legal threat, there can be no competition, and there can be no free software.

Saturday, October 27 2007

Political Issues of ICT Need Spotlight from Citizen Journalism

As a board member of Software Liberty Association, Taiwan, I am involved in preparing a panel discussion of International Conference on Open Source 2007. We have invited Microsoft, Novell, Ministry of Education (and Ministry of Justice under invitation process), and two SLAT board members (including myself) to discuss a humble request from SLAT. We are currently discussing details with Microsoft. We expect this to be an event of historical and global significance whether the outcome is positive or negative. However, we need your attention and spotlight for enriching its significance. We therefore invite you, citizen journalists who care about political issues in the field of Information and Computer Technology, or your friends/contacts in Taiwan, to come to Taipei and make audio and/or video recordings of this event on Nov 2 (Fri) morning. By having recordings other than the SLAT's official version, and by getting bloggers to give constructive comments on the responses of the panelists, we expect this event to serve as an example of what could also be arranged in other countries about Microsoft, free software, and use of software in general without resort to costly legal procedures. Please do circulate this URL not only to GNU/Linux users, but also to other citizen journalists who might be interested in such a topic. Thank you very much!

Sunday, September 16 2007

Buying OOXML Votes | 收買投票部隊, 微軟全球佈局

(最近忙著錄製 Dr. Geo 教學影片, 很久沒寫部落格了... 這裡寫的事, 早就不是新聞)

就在 「加速微軟的 OOXML 通過 ISO 審核」 投票的前夕, 發生了一些引起爭議的事:

  1. 具有高度影響力投票資格的會員國從三十個增加到四十一個。 11 個新會員當中, 有 9 票支持微軟 (30 個舊會員中, 只有 8 票支持)。
  2. ISO 底下一個與文件格式相關的委員會, 會員數在短短五個月內從 24 個增加到 48 個。
  3. 微軟試圖 收買瑞典的委員會
  4. 匈牙利國內的投票 違反常理, 微軟支持者反對以技術討論解決爭議
  5. ... ( 更多記錄 ISO 此次烏煙瘴氣投票歷程的連結)

有些事件只是有跡象令人高度懷疑微軟在背後操作, 但目前並沒有直接有力的證據。 好吧, 舉證的責任在指控的一方; 這沒有直接證據的部分就不算。 有直接證據的案例裡面呢, 也看不出微軟觸犯任何一條法律。 回歸原點吧: 從技術角度來看 OOXML 根本不是開放的檔案格式, 但它就是能夠在世界各國運作, 在眾人拿它莫可奈何的情況下, 硬是把贊成票數撐到技術人員無法理解的高票。 微軟真的很厲害。 難怪那麼多採購決策者仍舊願意 柔順乖巧地花錢買枷鎖 任微軟如何糟蹋柔躪也無怨無悔, ... 無言。

Friday, August 17 2007

Windows is free | 微軟視窗其實是免費的

在 linuxtoday 讀到這篇文章 Windows Is Free

很有趣的幾個片段:

  • 假設現代汽車免費, 沒有保障, 操作面版上沒法裝音響。 假設他們也不廣告。 會有多少人用? (這段話是要說明: 就算 Linux 真的很爛, 如果它面對的是真正值 $200 美金的 windows, 也不可能慘到像今天這樣幾近沒有人用)
  • 竊盜行為令人不屑, 不是因為竊者有所得, 而是因為被竊者有所失。 (意思是一般人其實對盜拷行為並不覺得有何不妥)
  • 很多人不去下載破解版 windows 不是因為認為非法拷貝有何不道德, 而是怕病毒等等。 對於朋友給的盜拷版, 接受度就高多了。
  • 非法拷貝有助於 Windows 的壟斷。 (很多人說過了; 不過他講得讓人無法辯駁。 )
  • 對自由軟體推廣者而言, 最重要的結論是: 幫這些付費軟體設計保護機制 (讓盜拷變得不容易)

最後一點很有趣, 但我認為不可行。

「盜拷的舞者」 那一段也很有趣。 "想像一下: 如果人家提議要送她的不是一片盜拷軟體而是一支偷來的 iPod, 整個氣氛會多麼不一樣"

最喜歡他的兩個結論:

  • 對於用盜拷軟體者而言, 想通此事表示少了一個懷有罪惡感的理由。 其實您正間接在幫助微軟維持它的市佔率。 但您又不能公開地說。 很詭異的局勢。 另一方面, 您也正在減緩自由軟體的普及率 -- 您原本可以大方免費使用的好東西。 對這樣的行為您有什麼感覺? 您自己決定吧。
  • 對我而言, 這個覺悟讓我找到一個新的策略。 以後再有人要談論比較作業系統的優劣, 請先把您所有軟體授權許可證攤開來讓我看。 然後我才願意和您談論下去。

超帥的主意。 給我看許可證, 不然就閉嘴, 盜拷的人沒資格談論 免費的 Linux 比要錢的 Windows 功能差。 (但是有資格承認盜拷, 並談論免費的 Linux 比免費的 Windows 功能差 :-) )

Thursday, August 16 2007

ODF in Asia | ODF 在亞洲 & 拒絕升級 Office 2007 活動

補一下前一陣子的 ODF 新聞:

  • 去年八月聯合國 呼籲 亞太地區國家採用 ODF
  • 日本於六月底 公佈 一份文件鼓勵採用開放的格式, 包含 ODF
  • 馬來西亞於八月 宣佈 公部門採用 ODF 格式的計畫

特別請看一下聯合國的那篇報導, 談到文件長久保存及避免政府助長非法拷貝。

往者已矣, 過去被 綁架 的文件就算了; 讓我們一起來阻止下一步的盲目升級。 是否又有政府機關或學校單位 堅持升級 Office 2007 呢? 如果您知道有這樣的單位, 而且他們的文件不只是內部流傳, 還公開傳送給民眾及老師學生, 請理性溝通平和抗議。 請提供給他足夠的資訊, 例如為什麼公開散佈最新版封閉檔案格式是 不道德的行為, 會鼓勵非法拷貝/擴大數位落差/助長微軟壟斷。 如果是國防機關, 還要提醒他 .doc檔洩露機密。 甚至請把這帖網址寄給相關人士. 讓他知道如果拒不處理, 回信將被公開。 如果經過禮貌的溝通, 對方卻仍舊連我們最卑微的請求: 「請不要用最新版的 office 2007 格式強迫我升級」 都拒絕, 那麼請把對方的回信貼到這裡。

舊版 Office 的用戶們: 請您與我們一起抗議無意義的升級。 Microsoft Word(s) 不是一套軟體, 而是前後彼此不盡相容的好幾套軟體, 只是打上相同的標籤而已。 新舊版本的 Word 之間格式的差異, 甚至可能超過不同廠商產品之間格式的差異。 即使您本身用 word, 即使您暫時不打算改用 ODF, 也有權利及義務參與拒絕被迫升級至 Office 2007 的活動。 如果您認為舊版的 office 已經夠用, 別人就沒有權利強迫您升級。 即使他願意花錢為您買免費的版本也不成為理由。 不要為了一兩個花俏的功能而出賣您的人權, 更不要在不清楚自身權益的清況下被迫非法拷貝。

Tuesday, July 17 2007

Voting army | 資訊界的政治角力: 投票部隊

微軟極力希望其檔案格式 MS OOXML 能夠通過 INCITS 認證。 盡管它實際上 根本不是開放檔案格式, 投標結果卻還是暫時對它有利, 為什麼? 投票部隊支持它。 想要專心技術, 別管政治? 在這個時代, 誰握有資訊科技, 誰就是 權貴; 社會大眾如果對於老大哥的惡劣行徑逆來順受默不出聲, 就準備交出我們的人權吧。

Saturday, July 14 2007

OLPC: looking beyond purchase orders | 每童一機 (OLPC) : 訂單之外的議題

諸如 OLPC 這樣的事件, 有沒有機會喚醒決策者跳脫數字的迷思, 多從對社會長遠影響的角度出發, 單刀直入去思考事情的本質呢? 到底是一部電腦賺幾塊錢比較重要, 還是它可以為我們的下一代帶來多少教育機會比較重要呢? 請見刊載於零組件雜誌 189 期的 全文

Sunday, July 8 2007

Price? Monopoly ... Big Brother! | 價格? 壟斷 ... 老大哥!

不論是一綱一本, 或是 ETC 案, 價格從來就不該是重點。 聰明的臺灣人, 請不要滿足於價格論述。 本文也並不主張教改十全十美不需要檢討改變, 或是主張遠通一事幕後有弊案。 我們的訴求很簡單: 請尊重多元, 開放讓市場自由競爭, 不論是教科書市場, 或是 ETC 的 OBU 市場皆然。

* * *

數位科技與網際網路促成了 web 2.0 現象, 多元化與自由化因而成為世界趨勢。 但是掌握資源的兩大黨, 在言辭敷衍這些觀念的同時, 行動上還是堅持抗拒多元化自由化的潮流, 努力回頭朝一元化的方向鑽, 展現 小魚逆流向上 的偉大情操。 掌控主流媒體的這強大二勢力, 不論誰執政, 應該都有機會將臺灣帶入類似 George Orwell 所著的 "一九八四" 一書所描述的完美一元社會, 從此以後臺灣人民將不必再煩惱 「選擇」 這回事, 一切都交由 老大哥 決定就好。

* * *

國民黨強力推動一綱一本, 說是要減輕學生買書和讀書的負擔。 其實如果他們關心的真的是學生買書的花費, 並不需要反對符合多元化世界潮流的一綱多本。 大可以要求執政黨學習 維基教科書 的精神, 推動教科書共創共享。 也可以要求政府編列預算, 逐年分批向教材製作業者買斷教科書授權, 以某種 creative commons 的方式釋放出來。 長期目標是讓任何人可以無授權障礙取得所有版本的教科書。 每位學童通常只需要一套紙本教科書, 其餘較少看的版本, 以電子檔形式作為參考資料, 需要時可以在家中或圖書館中查閱。 在教科書共創共享的架構下維持一綱多本, 一樣可以讓豐富多元的學習資源、省錢、環保三者並行不悖。 轉學生則藉助 長尾現象 新興商業模式的一個實例: print-on-demand 的方式, 只付列印費, 不需付授權費。

當然啦, 這樣的建議會挑戰傳統書商, 北北基縣市長們當然不願意去推動。 如果一綱一本推動成功, 不僅不會挑戰傳統書商, 還可以循著 宴請建築大亨 的模式, 也把書商們集中到縣長官邸來 「請益」 一下; 當然在場的絕對不可以有關心教育/文化/數位落差 的相關官員及自由文化/自由數位內容的社會運動者之類的閒雜人等, 以免節外生枝, 令大眾對縣市長們清廉的形象產生不必要的誤會。 雀屏中選的版本, 將享有極大的壟斷權; 大家再也不需要煩惱市場機制的多元競爭, 多麼完美啊! 當然價格也不需要大家操心啦: 只此一家, 沒有競爭, 價格他說了就算; 抗爭議價等等無謂的行動都可以省下來。 (畢竟人家要取得壟斷權想必也花了不少錢, 那當然也要算入投資成本的一部分啊!)

* * *

民進黨強力推動高速公路電子收費系統 ETC 由單一公司承包。 或許 「開放市場自由競爭」 「允許不同, 才是相容」 的建議, 從來沒有傳到他們耳朵裡。 最近 OBU 機上盒漲價, 主流媒體的討論仍圍繞在價格, 只有 極微弱的聲音 質疑為何不開放競爭 (要在文中用力找一下)。 看來媒體還蠻好控制, 民眾也還蠻好騙的, 只要把議題鎖在價格, 即使只是短暫的降價, 多元競爭的問題就可以避而不談。 不如就一不作二不休吧。 建議民進黨政府把所有提款卡的製作權收回, 授予單一銀行統一製作。 這樣民眾可以省去選擇的煩惱, 就像要裝設 OBU 根本不需要煩惱要找那一家一樣, 多麼便民啊! (需要排一下隊倒是真的) 如果有少數不知好歹的人士抱怨呢? 只要提出令人眼花潦亂的各種優惠方案及贈品措施 (嗯, 就贈送 「我不是塑膠袋」 好了, 以免大家搶得頭破血流) 讓媒體與大眾的注意力集中在價格, 完全忘記多元競爭這回事, 其他都很好辦。 等壟斷佈局成功, 再來逐年調漲, 過去一切的投資都很容易賺回來。

當然, 對執政黨而言, 真正的重點在後面, 而且要和其他政策一起推動。 以後改用生物特徵辨識, 一卡只能一人使用, 就像眼光長遠的移民署即將換發的 「IC防偽外僑居留證」 一樣。 從此以後, 所有人的所有提款記錄, 政府都一清二楚, 畢竟政府討資料的對象只剩下一家銀行, 簡單多了, 也比較容易躲過媒體, 低調進行。 電信業也是如此, 通通交由一家公司負責就好。 有了這些, 再搭配 OBU 監視與紀錄行蹤, 民眾的一切行動通話金融活動, 都在老大哥的掌控之下, 從此以後再也不怕 黨內初選電話民調舞弊 這類醜聞。 當然更重要的是可以掌控所有市井小民的言行, 思想改造及監控可以做得比蔣介石時代更徹底。 再也不怕有人不愛臺灣了!

* * *

微軟強力推銷... 微軟不必推銷, 教育界有許多教授義務地, 免費地 (應該吧?) 在為它推銷它的作業系統及文書處理軟體。 它已佈局成功, 完全壟斷市場, 並且藉 類似二手煙的力量 迫使不想用的人也非用不可。 有錢的臺灣人, 您對微軟只提供給落後國家的 $3 美金方案 有意見嗎? 那就不要用它的軟體試試看啊。 現在所有夠新的 Windows 電腦 (是的, 包含您的, 您存款銀行的, 及我們國防部的每部夠新的電腦) 每兩週 就會 回報 一次。 即便已經知道這樣的狀況, 連國防部, 國安會, 和軍情局這樣的單位都還是無動於衷 (該不會是毫不知情吧), 持續使用它的軟體, 您說我們一般小老百姓能不用它的軟體嗎?

* * *

不論是一綱一本, 或是 ETC 案, 價格從來就不該是重點。 聰明的臺灣人, 請不要滿足於價格論述。 本文也並不主張教改十全十美不需要檢討改變, 或是主張遠通一事幕後有弊案。 我們的訴求很簡單: 請尊重多元, 開放讓市場自由競爭, 不論是教科書市場, 或是 ETC 的 OBU 市場皆然。

國民黨與民進黨不願意鬆手讓市場自由競爭, 大眾就必須訴諸輿論的力量來要求他們。 如果大家漠不關心, 或是滿足於短暫的降價或優惠措施, 等到壟斷形成時, 我們就只能像現在對微軟一樣, 心不甘情不願地接受, 幾乎沒有討價還價的空間。

更糟糕的是, 壟斷者不會滿足於金錢的收益。 教科書只有一個版本, 就容易控制。 控制教科書, 就可以改寫歷史; 改寫歷史, 就可以控制未來。 這不是危言聳聽, 而是 George Orwell 名言 的另一種表達法。 您可以在其他事情上支持國民黨, 但此事請不要盲目支持它。 ETC 可以帶來很多方便, 但是目前獨家壟斷的做法將對人民的基本權利造成長遠的傷害。 這也不是杞人憂天, 而是 班傑明.佛蘭克林提醒過我們的事。 才剛推出, 離壟斷遠得很, 就敢限定只能在三部車上使用, 完全漠視消費者的 易地使用權, 您期待它未來會尊重您的人權? 您可以在其他事情上支持民進黨, 但此事請不要盲目支持它。

如果這些推測聽起來只像是無病申吟的陰謀論, 請多去瞭解過去只顧賺錢的微軟, 現在如何為掌控世界佈局。 如果連這個燃眉之急的現象也被多數人當成是小題大作, 如果多數人還是只在乎價格議題, ... 那我也只能默默為臺灣祈福了。 套句信用卡的廣告詞:

人權... 無價。

Saturday, June 30 2007

Learn the history before joinging the MSN I'M initiative

When your friends upgrade to newer cell phones, are you forced to upgrade as well in order to speak with her? Certainly no. Are you allowed to use the ATM card issued by one bank at the ATM machine that belongs to another bank, in a foreign country? Yes, Then why do the world collectively tolerate the incompatibility not only between Microsoft products with those from other vendors, but also between its own newer and older versions, as was the case with the MSN 6.1 upgrade cycle in 2003, or the various upgrade cycles of versions of the Microsoft Word? Learn the history before joinging the MSN I'M initiative.

* * *

Some debates in Taiwan about the MSN I'M initiative for charities lead me to this: "msn i'm - all about charity?" and the wikipedia entry.

Honestly the first thing I think of is some genius marketing plot with hidden agenda behind the benevolent appearance. Now, I hear some people say, "Please, can't you anti-MS guys just give us a break? If you don't feel like giving applauses when Microsoft does something good, can't you just stay quiet and let the rest of us make the world a better place?"

Indeed we can't stay quiet exactly because we want to make the world a better place. We don't want to discredit the good part of this initiative. I believe Microsoft will indeed make the claimed amount of donations, which deserves applauses, etc. But that's not the focus of our discussions. That's something everybody knows. We want to expose the hidden and dangerous side effects that may hurt the society more than the good part may help improve it.

If nothing else, it helps encouraging people to upgrade to newer versions of MSN 8.1 and make it more difficult for other vendors' products to talk to the MSN messenger. Helping create monopoly is not a good thing to do by itself. It's even worse when the monopoly blocks competitors unfairly by constantly changing the protocol, or in plain words, changing the language it speaks, without publishing the details. It's definitely not a technical requirement for the company to do so. When your friends upgrade to newer cell phones, are you forced to upgrade as well in order to speak with her? Certainly no. Are you allowed to use the ATM card issued by one bank at the ATM machine that belongs to another bank, in a foreign country? Yes, Then why do the world collectively tolerate the incompatibility not only between Microsoft products with those from other vendors, but also between its own newer and older versions, as was the case with the MSN 6.1 upgrade cycle in 2003, or the various upgrade cycles of versions of the Microsoft Word? Quite often, if the hardware supports open interfaces (search for "protocol" or "Jim Dennis"), old hardware can still talk to new hardware. Software is amply more flexible than hardware and is even more obligated to maintain compatibility between old and new versions. By the way this has nothing to do with requiring Microsoft to go open source, or make their software free. This is a much humbler request that they follow open interfaces or publish their own, so that other vendors' software can talk to theirs. Yet from file formats to the MSN protocols, Microsoft constantly refuses to do this.

Unless they are forced to, for example when facing the rising competition from the Open Document Format. In this case they would reluctantly follow suit by submitting their version of "open" interface to the International Standards Organization, while actually distorting the meaning of "open".

Please think about the social consequences of the forced upgrades by this intentional malpractice of software protocol/file format design from a more global point of view, and a longer term perspective. People who receive new file formats and/or messages from newer versions of MSN are forced to "choose" Microsoft products. Even users of older versions of Microsoft products are forced to upgrade. (In Taiwan, it's because of character display problems of the contacts.) Scholars including myself have warned against such unnecessary and forced "upgrades" of file formats, especially for digital archiving purposes.

That was bad enough when it was simply monopoly. But Microsoft has begun to implant spying software into everyone's computer since 2006 (yes, in every Windows user's computer -- not only yours, but also those in the banks where you deposit your money, and in those in the Defense Department of your country) with an already partially-implemented plan to eventually implant controlling software whose behavior is constantly dictated by Microsoft from afar. With a history of intruding consumer privacy and human rights like this, what do we expect Microsoft to do when everyone in the globe is using the newest version of MSN, many of whom are forced into it because of their charitable friends?

You can choose to help charities without inadvertently causing more harms than goods. Please stay away from the I'M initiative. If you still believe that this is just yet another Microsoft bashing after following most of the links, then go ahead and do whatever you think is good for the world. Otherwise please circulate this article or its URL in appropriate circumstances so that people make informed decisions about this I'M initiative. In doing so, especially by bringing this message to the charities and NPO's (and especially those fighting for human rights), you may actually help them in more than one way and in far more important aspects than making pennies of donations through Microsoft.

Thursday, June 28 2007

Your Freedom needs Free/Libre Software | 您的自由 要靠自由軟體保護

Richard Stallman 的文章: Your Freedom needs Free/Libre Software

"舉例來說吧, 微軟視窗系統監視用戶。 您搜尋自己的檔案時, 用那些字串在搜尋? 它會回報。 您安裝了那些檔案? 它會回報。"