Humpty-dumpty and irreversable systems

While reading a bit of retro work I came across this:

A little known law of life is that of irreversibility. No human or physical act or process can be reversed so that objects and states end up as they were. During the original act and in the time just after it, both object and state undergo change that is irreversible. An early known poem, Humpty-dumpty, recognises this. Once the egg is broken, that is that.

It is the same with systems. They can never be reversed. They can be changed, certainly, and sidetracked, and they can be very easily destroyed, the moment a human-machine information system comes into being, it takes on a life of its own independent of its creators. The operators just run it, while programmers merely maintain it. The process called entropy begins, a confusion that can be measured by the growing gulf between what people first knew about the system and now know about it.

Brian Rothery (1971), The Myth of the Computer, Business Books, p 43.

Combining GPL and Proprietary Software

Bruce Perens has written an interesting article about combining GPL with proprietary software the main point of discussion concerns the problem of combining software under different licenses in embedded devices. The article ends with a paragraph on what not to do:

Don’t assume that you can put proprietary kernel drivers in a run-time loadable kernel module. The legality of such a practice is dubious, and there have not been sufficient cases to say reliably what would happen if you were to get sued.

Also, don’t look for, and use loopholes in the Open Source licenses. Nothing makes your company look worse than taking unfair advantage of people who provided their work to you without charge, expecting in good faith that you’d honor their license. It also tends to make Open Source folks reluctant to cooperate with your company, the next time you need help with their software. And it looks bad to judges, too.

Don’t try to do what I’ve discussed without legal counsel to advise and review your actions.

This is a particularly tricky subject and every time a writer tackles it we slowly move towards a better understanding – but there is still a long way to go. In fact that shortest answer to the problem of combining GPL & proprietary software in one device may be “don’t do it if you are not sure” but not many are going to follow that advice since free and open source software is too much of a competitive advantage for developers to ignore.

(via Slashdot)

My new laptop is up and running

This is the first post I am writing with my new laptop. After unpacking, installing a new, larger and faster hard drive & increasing the ram all that was left to do was to re-install the operating system. Naturally that was the easy part (pictures here).

What to do with a new laptop?

The rest of the day was spent on an installing fest… All the large and small programs that make up a basic functioning computer. This is then followed by the really high intensive work of fine tuning the software to make it feel right at home. You know the kind of thing, adding bookmarks, arranging themes, transferring files. Time consuming but necessary work.

The Quality of Code, Law and Journalism

In the IT newspaper Computer Sweden a Swedish IT/IP lawyer (Malin Forsman) is quoted as saying that proprietary software is of “better quality” than Free or Open Source software (my translation):

She recommends against Swedish software providers from going ‘open souce’. According to her using licensing costs is a much better method.
– You need a carrot to exert yourself properly. If the large source of income is dependent upon the quality of the code then I believe that you will try harder.

My first problem is with the journalism and the article itself. Like many other short newspaper articles it does not seem to have a point. What is the newsworthiness of this article? That an individual has an opinion? So what? We all have opinions but this does not make them newsworthy. Mind you if this had been my only complaint it would not have been worth blogging about.

My second problem is with journalistic integrity. By simply blogging the lawyer we arrive at the law firm where she works and her brief bio, where under Memberships we see that she is a member of: Board member of the IT group of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, Board Member of the Association for IT and Law, Member of the Swedish Copyright Association and Member of the International Technology Law Association. Her main legal experience outside law firms was working for Microsoft Corporation. Shouldn’t this maybe have been indicated in the article? If the journalist is presenting an opinion as news then shouldn’t some sort of critical analysis be added? I know that journalists are supposed to be objective but this article is hardly reporting the news as it is.

The next problem is with the lawyer herself. I have no doubt that she is a qualified lawyer and an expert in the IT/IP field but what is wrong with her statements? Unless of course this is simply a case of journalistic misquote she is a legal expert speaking of the quality of code. She does not attempt to define quality even if such a definition was at all possible. By her logic an Open Source project that makes it’s code proprietary immediately improves its code and a proprietary software project that releases its code under an Open Source license immediately deteriorates the quality of its code. Obviously these are ridiculous statements. But when the IT/IP legal expert says them we are supposed to nod our heads in agreement.

So who would be the right person to make such a statement? Well that person would need to have a vast experience of code not law. This imaginary person would need to have a vast experience of both open and proprietary projects and be able to define the concept of quality in a way that will enable these projects to be measurable and comparable. In addition to this the person would need to be free from suspicions of bias. I doubt whether such a super person exists.

But what may be said about quality? Here are two quotes:

Peter Drucker: (Innovation and entrepreneurship, 1985) “Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. “ISO 9000: “Degree to which a set of inherent characteristic fulfills requirements.”

Now lets complicate the issue even more:

While both these definitions are relatively common neither takes into full account the nature of software quality. The problem arises from the fact that software is a mix of product and service. The actual code is not what customers buy – they buy a function. Who cares what the software of a word processor looks like? It’s function is what the customer believes he/she has bought. If this is true then the customer has also bought an expectation of support in the case of software failure.

This was just meant as an illustration of the complexity of software quality and why neither a journalist nor a lawyer can deal with such a question in the space of a 350 word article. What they are really doing is pure advertising in the form of journalism. Advertising a personal, political and business stance on software while puffing up their own egos.

You didn't check the EULA ?!?!?!

Google’s new browser Chrome is receiving a lot of attention lately. I was not really wowed but did actually jump when I read the Google Chrome EULA. This of course goes to show that I am not totally jaded – yet!

11. Content licence from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights that you already hold in Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms
of those Services.

Obviously the text formatting to bold was added by me.

It is totally amazing what companies are prepared to demand in their EULAs. Why don’t they even demand use of any/all physical material you may have lying about on your desk while you use their browser?


The license now reads

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights that you already hold in Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services.

The text remains in the old version in Swedish but I guess that this will be changed soon. It was more a question of Google’s lawyers not reading the EULA but being a bit too quick on the old cut & paste 🙂

Happy Birthday GNU

This month GNU is celebrating its 25th birthday and among the well wishers is Stephen Fry who helped make the video Happy Birthday to GNU.

Grattis GNU!

My first thought was that this was just a gimmick but after watching the video I realized that it was a really good introduction to Free Software and actually a sincere appreciation of the amazing task Richard and thousands of others has carried out. It’s well worth watching.

Google browser

Google’s browser Chrome is being released soon after 2 years of development – but are we excited? I don’t know the whole browser war is a thing of the past. Oh well bring it on, lets see what you’ve got.

At Google, we have a saying: “launch early and iterate.” While this approach is usually limited to our engineers, it apparently applies to our mailroom as well! As you may have read in the blogosphere, we hit “send” a bit early on a comic book introducing our new open source browser, Google Chrome…We will be launching the beta version of Google Chrome tomorrow in more than 100 countries.

At least they have a colorless cartoon to explain what it does…

WordPress client for iPhone

This snappy little application means that you could blog anywhere anytime… all I need now is an iPhone… Strangely enough I still don’t feel the desire to own one…

Excellent news for bloggers came…when WordPress announced that they’re developing a client application for the iPhone.

The WordPress client for iPhone is available in the App Store and in iTunes.