Via TechnoLlama comes this wonderful image adding to the evidence that Vista is not popular. Going to the trouble of advertising a downgrade, you know your OS is in trouble.

The tyranny of “free”

Over at Macuser Dan Moren replies to the question “why can’t all iPhone apps be free? posed by Anita Hamilton in TIME. Moren widens the question to apply to the whole concept of free stuff but naturally focuses on free software. His point is the way in which the public at large have connected the concept of free (gratis) with the idea of value.

We are not entitled to software any more than we are entitled to the other products that we buy day in, day out. We’ve been spoiled because so many developers give things away for free (which, of course, is their prerogative), and we’ve gotten used to the idea of streaming our television online, or even stealing our music from file-sharing services. The idea of “free” has been co-opted into the idea that products aren’t worth money—which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This is good stuff up until the end. I don’t think that people stealing music, downloading films or demanding free software are confused into thinking that these products are not worth money. But this does not detract from the main point in the paragraph that we are not entitled to stuff (for free).

On a primary level this is obviously true but it is not all the truth. On the level of basic needs (human, cultural, physical) there are naturally arguments to be made that stuff should be free. There are even easy arguments to be made that it is acceptable to break rules, laws & regulations when such basic needs are threatened. In addition to this there is the problematic area that we are bombarded with false needs through advertising which state (implicitly) that we are less evolved as beings unless we have the latest widget, designer toy or status gizmo. Naturally the latter is not a clear argument but it does certainly muddy the waters.

The problem with free, as Moren sees it comes with value and payment:

The whole point of payment is that you give someone money to take care of a problem that you don’t want to do yourself. You could save a bundle of money by not hiring people to cut your grass, for example, but then you’ll have to use the time you’d rather spend doing something else mowing the lawn yourself. Just as you could save some cash by developing a word-processor yourself, but heck, in the long run, it’s probably cheaper to let Microsoft do it for you.

This is economics at its most basic. Seriously. It doesn’t get any more basic than this.

This is an excellent argument and as Moren writes, it doesn’t get any more basic than this. But this only focuses on the economic transaction not on the social effects of such transactions. It is cheaper to let Microsoft create my word processor. But the problem occurs not at this stage. The problem occurs when I realize, for any reason, that I would prefer to have a word processor not built solely on economic gounds but with values of openness and transparency. Perhaps I would like to ensure that future developments within the word processor field have the ability to develop in a multitude of ways that neither Microsoft or anyone else has thought of today. Or perhaps I would just like to have Open Office on my computer becuase I like the name.

If we ony concentrate on the transaction cost argument (cheaper for Microsoft to develop than me) and we isolate the transaction and the product out of the wider context computers and communication then there is no problem. But this is unrealistic. I do not buy software alone. It is not useful without other products. Transactions are not isolated alone but a part of a system with economic, technical, political and social ramifications.

The importance of Free Software is not in giving the public free (gratis) stuff. It is in the ability for all users (via other developers) to access and control their infrastructure. In the same way as free speech is important not becuase I may one day have something important to say but becuase every day thousands of people are saying important things and one day I may just accidently happen to listen.

Categories are not tags – Tags can be categories

After blogging for a couple of years, yesterday I realised that I could no longer continue in ignorance and finally got to the bottom of the difference between tags and categories. Actually I have been using tags on other sites for some time but never on my blog so it was time to understand (once again) what I was doing. And like many things that have been put off for too long it wasn’t that difficult. Thanks to Lorelle on WordPress for helping me sort this out.

Categories categorize: they help the readers find similar material. Tags help search engines organize the information found online.

  • Categories help visitors find related information on your site. Tags help visitors find related information on your site and on other sites.
  • Categories can have unique names. Tags need to be known names.
  • Categories can have long wordy names. Tags should have short one, two, or at the most, three words.
  • Categories generate a page of posts on your site. Tags can, too, but often generate a page of off-site posts on an off-site website.
  • Categories are not tags. Tags can be categories.
  • Categories don’t help search engines find information. Tags help search engines and tag directories catalog your site.
  • Posts are usually in one to four categories. A single post can list as many tags as you want.
  • So now that I have learned the difference and begun using Simple Tags to help me with my new-found tagging skills then maybe this will make a difference.

    Stallman lecture in Göteborg

    Richard Stallman will be in Göteborg giving a public talk entitled: The Free Software Movement and the GNU/Linux Operating System about the goals and philosophy of the Free Software Movement, and the status and history of the GNU operating system, which in combination with the kernel Linux is now used by tens of millions of users world-wide. The lecture will be arranged by the Free Software Foundation Europe, IT University of Göteborg, Chalmers University of Technology and Student union.

    Dr. Stallman is the founder of the GNU project and president of the Free Software Foundation. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Glasgow, Free University of Brussels and Universidad Nacional de Salta. In 1990, he was the receiver of a Macarthur foundation fellowship and has been elected member of the US National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    The lecture will take place at Runan, Chalmers (Johanneberg) on Feb 27th 18.00 – only 450 seats so it my be wise to show up on time. Last time he was here over 1000 people showed up.

    Blog Readability Test

    This post was edited since it contained a spam application

    Here is a cute little application that measures the readability of a blog. My blog made it to post grad level. I am part of the Resistance Studies network and the blog over there is Genius level – but it is obviously the other contributors who lift the blog above postgrad level 🙂

    Open Office addition

    Creative Commons released an Add-in for which allows users to select and embed a Creative Commons license in documents. Based on work completed as part of the Google Summer of Code by Cassio Melo, the add-in supports Writer (word processing documents), Calc (spreadsheets) and Impress (presentations).

    The Add-in is available without charge, and is licensed under the GNU General Public License. Download information and links to source code.

    How to embed YouTube videos into WordPress

    For a long time all of my efforts to embed YouTube videos into this blog have been frustrated. Most of the help I found online was not helpful since it did not work. Finally I came across ShandyKing and hey presto I now can embed YouTube (wow! everyone is really excited now)

    The main problem is that using WordPress, Mac and Firefox together is a bad combination if you want to be able to embed YouTube. The only way I managed to make it all work is by going into Users tab in the Admin section, find your user name and click on Edit. There is a “Your Profile Tab” and a box that say’s “Use the visual editor when writing”. Uncheck this, and click “Update Profile”. Then go back to your post and past the Embed code provided by YouTube.

    Using the Code View under write did not work so I had to use the long way. Unfortunately this setting also means that I need to write in html – not fun. So the choice is either to go back and forth in the User settings or change browsers. But Firefox is staying!

    Fatal error – bad programming kills

    The South African National Defence Force is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise. (TWeb)

    Tragic errors such as these are only to be expected – the more dependent we become on software, the more natural that software errors will occur. So if we include software in lethal weaponry the side effects of a programming flaw will not surprisingly lead to fatalities.

    A software flaw almost started world war three in 1983. On that year the Soviet missile warning system indicated that five intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from a base in Montana. Correct procedure was to launch the USSR response. The man responsible was Russian Strategic Rocket Forces lieutenant colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov. He deviated from standard Soviet doctrine by positively identifying a missile attack warning as a false alarm. (Wikipedia).

    This human analysis of a computer error probably prevented the beginning of a nuclear war.

    The bravery involved in questioning technology needs to be encouraged and cultivated to make sure that when computer errors occur they can be overridden by the human element. Indeed systems should be built to allow human intervention.


     Apparently two core developers working on the Thunderbird email client have quit. Following the continued development of Thunderbird should be interesting.

    The two core developers of Thunderbird have left Mozilla. Scott McGregor made a brief statement: ‘I wanted to let the Thunderbird community know that Friday October 12th will be my last day as an employee of the Mozilla Corporation.’ Meanwhile, David Bienvenu blogged: ‘Just wanted to let everyone know that my last day at The Mozilla Corporation will be Oct. 12. I intend to stay involved with Thunderbird… I’ve enjoyed working at Mozilla a lot, and I wish Mozilla Co and the new Mail Co all the best.’ A few month ago Mozilla management considered abandoning their second product and setting up a special corporation just for the mail client. (Slashdot)

    Naturally there are lots of alternative email clients to chose from Eudora, Claws Mail or Mulberry but I really like using Thunderbird so I hope that it continues to develop.

    (via Guardian)