Following Up for the Week Ending 10/17/2010

Dell Streak Stumbles Over GPL Compliance

The Register has the details, driven by the hackers among Android’s larger community, of Dell’s failure to fully honor their GPL obligations with their new gadget. The Streak is an early entrant into a promising field of Android powered mobile devices, tablets. Well, it isn’t quite a tablet as the consensus seems to consider tablets in the range of seven inch screens and up. And it isn’t quite a true MID, usually coming in at four inch or so. (MID stands for mobile internet device and is a bland and worthless descriptor that seems most commonly applied to handy non-tablet devices like the iPod Touch.) The most frequent attempt at describing the Streak I’ve seen is to characterize it as an oversized phone, with all the appropriate hardware and available with a service place but clumsy to hold up to the ear.

This is one of the devices I am following with interest to potentially purchase as a successor to my aging and increasingly decrepit first generation iPod Touch. Hopefully Dell will come into compliance sooner, rather than later. Especially as the sources in question could mean the difference between having or not having the option of an after market, manually upgrade to FroYo, the latest version of Android.

Dell Streak snub enrages Android fans, The Register

Library at the Heart of Linux is Finally Free and Open

A nice bit of software archeology by Simon Phipps. Not just digging up the history of this old Sun code that was up until this month still under a restrictive license, but the challenges and Phipps’ own part in correcting that situation after a few attempts.

This may come as a shock, but all GNU/Linux distributions to date have been built with essential software under a licence that clearly meets neither the Open Source Definition nor the Free Software Foundations’ requirements for a Free software licence. The tenacity of a Red Hat hacker has finally solved this problem for everyone, however, and I’m proud to have played a part too.

The code in question is the original SUN RPC code, buried in the guts of Linux’s, and other OSes’, networking code. The most fascinating aspect is how the original, informal licensing terms purely as a function of time evolved from seeming liberal to quite conservative. As Phipps notes, this code well predates the GPL so didn’t benefit from the kind of legal theorizing and scrutiny that came to software licensing later on.

GNU/Linux – finally it’s free software, Computer World UK

feeds | grep links > WikiLeaks Insurance, Norvig on Being Wrong, Feds Claim Kindle Violated Civil Rights, and More

feeds | grep links > Framework for Badging Non-Profits, YouTube Experiments with Embeddable HTML5 Video, and More

feeds | grep links > Android Bloatware, WordPress Firm that GPL Does Cover Themes and Plugins, and More

feeds | grep links > Charging ISPs for Piracy, Insights on Room Temperature Super-Conductors, CouchDB on Android and More

  • UK royalty group wants ISPs to pay for pirating customers
    Via Slashdot. Superficially, this isn’t too different from a statutory license but on further reading that breaks down. Mandatory licenses are usually flat rate, generating supplemental revenue to existing media as a manageable tax on emerging media. The reasoning here is different, it is meant to scale with the volume of unlicensed music flowing throw ISPs’ networks. The lack of consideration for legitimate online sales also being bolstered by improved access to broadband is concerning yet very typical.
  • New insights that may lead to room temperature super conductors
    As The Register explains, copper-oxide super conductors enter a pseudo-gap phase when warming up, the main quality of which is that they stop conducting with zero resistance. It turns out that there is more if interest in this phase of the material than simply a roadblock to super conductivity that doesn’t require massive cooling. The new insights could lead to new materials or adjusting existing ones to finally achieve zero resistance at practical temperatures. For computing, such super conductors could crack Gordon Moore’s other observation, about power/thermal load that didn’t pan out as well as his famous prediction on doubling transistor density every eighteen months.
  • CouchDB on Android
    Via Hacker News. The project just reached its 1.0 milestone for the regular release. The Android version is still a very early developer preview. It is a good example of the increased choice that Android offers mobile developers. And they don’t have to wait around for Google to provide them with more tools and options, there is nothing stopping a database maker or a toolkit author or anyone else from porting something useful not just to end users but to other developers.
  • Black Hat talk on Chinese cyber army pulled
    Slashdot has the story, one that seems to repeat every year at one or more hacker conferences in some form or another. The pulling of talks is so expected at this point, I’d suggest it would be more surprising if at least one such story didn’t crop up in a given year. In this instance, the presenters are from a company with R&D operations in Taiwan explaining their concern about possible pressure from the Chinese government.
  • New Chinese rule will require real names online
  • David Lynch looking at crowd funding his next movie
  • Brewing conflict between WordPress and proprietary theme developer
    HT Glyn Moody on Identi.ca.
  • More on the recent developments with the WordPress, Thesis license conflict

feeds | grep links > Privacy Theater, Fedora 13 Released, FSF Seeking GPL Compliance from the Apple App Store, and Facebook on Data Portability

It was either a slower news day or I was distracted by day dreams of Balticon.

  • Privacy theater
    Professor Ed Felten has a link to a NYT round table feature including a variety of opinions about Facebook’s privacy practices and the possibility of regulation. In this Freedom to Tinker post, he also coins the term, “privacy theater”, which aptly describes the motions providers and users both go through without amounting to much control or privacy.
  • Fedora 13 released
    Ryan Paul at Ars Technica digs some of the highlights out of the release announcement. The biggest change for the release is the inclusion of some open 3D drivers that sound pretty capable. He also mentions the rev to Python 3 and a significantly improvedinstaller.
  • FSF seeking GPL compliance in the Apple app store
    The application in question is a port of Gnu Go and the core issue is it is impossible to satisfy the offer of source, especially under GPL v2, with the Apple developer license and conditions of use for the store. The FSF is realistic enough to understand that the most likely outcome for this complaint is not compliance but ejection of the app from the store.
  • Is Facebook coming around on data portability?
    The service has had an abysmal track record, often suing when users try to exercise some autonomous control over their own data. Steve Repetti at the Data Portability blog points out one statement in Zuckerberg’s press call that may be cause to hope. He is realistic, though, and admits the proof will be in what Facebook actually does.

MySQL’s Infuence on the GPL

Slashdot links to a post from former MySQL contributor, Brian Akers, that is part conference report from SCALE and part retrospective on MySQL’s effect on how business people viewed the GPL. For one, Akers lays the prevalence of the questionable dual licensing practice in open source at the feet of MySQL. He charts it as part of a trend where investors and potential investors viewed MySQL as a sort of abbreviated map, an executive summary, of the rest of the FLOSS world.

The silver lining is that Akers seems to think this chapter of MySQL’s not always constructive influence on the GPL is over, with the Oracle acquisition of Sun. It stands to reason that the swallowing of the project by a company not known for its open source enlightenment would break this sometimes vicious cycle with investors looking elsewhere for a quick read on what to expect with open source focused businesses.

Beware or You May Be Replaced with a Patent

Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Center expressed surprise at a recently granted patent.

So, when I look closely at these claims, I am appalled to discover this patent claims, as a novel invention, things that I’ve done regularly, with a mix of my brain and a computer, since at least 1999. I quickly came to the conclusion that this is yet another stupid patent granted by the USPTO that it would be better to just ignore.

Bradley works on issues of compliance around the GPL and the software firm, Black Duck, has been developing tools to try to automate aspects of this work, most notably analyzing software to suss out chain of provenance. The utility of these tools is suspect, read Bradley’s remarks on why.

As he explains about the patent itself, out of a stream of ridiculous and mind numbingly stupid patent stories flowing out of the usual tech news outlets, this one really stood out. He expresses some reluctance to contribute to even highlighting this intellectual monopoly idiocy but I think it is worth highlighting.

As Bradley says, compliance with the GPL or other free software or open source licenses, isn’t that hard. Most of what the SFLC does is outreach and education, not litigation. I also get the impression that the software archeology aspects are rarely all that challenging.

My only question is whether Bradley will initiate or support contesting this patent. Sounds to me like he is living prior art.