Friday, June 23, 2006

"war" map

Click the image to see the enlarged map by author Steven Hilton.

The description states "FOSS"s battle versus Microsoft though the map includes proprietary projects (in black) that are, nonetheless, a thorn in the side of Microsoft. Unfortunately, a map like this implies "Microsoft" to be the problem. Although Microsoft holds the lion's share of oppressive technology and can legitimately have the finger pointed in their direction for dubious business practices, free software is about freedom from all published proprietary software - not freedom from any one particular company. For example, the map does not show GNU Java in opposition to Sun's Java. Nonetheless, this is an interesting (and informative for those new to FOSS) image of the multi-faceted "war" Microsoft is facing.

As well, it might be interesting to put open standards on the map - like ODF for example - that are helping the push for freedom.

Thanks Steven!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

free software, film, and africa

Eighty Days Production's David Madié is creating a film about free software in africa. It's apparently to be released sometime in 2007.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Another Sky Press

Another Sky Press is an organization that values the dissemination of culture. To understand their angle, see their beliefs page. Organizations like this in tandem with conscientious consumers and paradigm-smashing approaches to copyright and software patent law (e.g. most creative commons licenses and free software) can help create a brave gnu world.

Some of Another Sky's key beliefs that ring true:
"Rather than fight technology, we’ve decided to flow with it. Rather than ‘protect’ our ‘intellectual property’ with DRM and other consumer-unfriendly practices, we’re offering it all for free. Rather than fight against P2P and related technologies, we’ll embrace them."

"We believe it would be better if individuals could decide the value of art after they experience it, not before."

"Art should be for all, not for those who can afford it. Contribute when you can, if you can. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t contribute to every artist who you’ve enjoyed. Instead, be proud to contribute at a level that is comfortable to you both ethically and financially. If you have the means, by all means go above and beyond and generously support a few artists to ensure they can continue to create new work."

"We believe the money should go to the artist, not obsolete middle men hanging on to antiquated distribution paradigms."

"The corporations that currently have a strangle hold on our culture are not equipped for the impact of technology. They can not and will not adapt, for their profit lies in the realm of control and information consolidation, not freedom and information dissemination. We have the opportunity to reclaim our culture and we need to take it."
Thanks for the link, David!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

We Got a Cocoon

After a most disturbing turn of events, my school's technology committee met yet again to discuss (be told?) what would happen with our computer systems. It was a rather ugly meeting but a very fruitful one considering we were facing a school-wide ban on free software. It's interesting to note that one member resigned from the committee half-way through the meeting. He was justifiably upset that the committee had spent hours upon hours researching/presenting a proposal that was unanimously accepted then overturned by one person using specious reasons. To make things worse, the director said that this reversal was happening on advice from US Embassy/State Department personnel but that these individuals' names were "confidential." "Why can we not talk to these people?", the now ex-committee member asked. "Because it's none of your business", was the response. He understandably left the meeting, and the committee, moments after.

A big loss came in regard to Office products. In the first meeting, I offered a very thorough presentation on the OpenDocument format and the reasons why we, as a school, should adopt it as a standard. And again, I emphasized this point - that even if we adopt Windows as a platform on all of our machines, we should use an Office suite that supports the OpenDocument format for administrative, teacher, and student work. Unfortunately, it was evident that those in charge were not interested in learning the facts regarding file formats. Windows got confused with OpenDocument which got confused with "open source" which got confused with...and so on. "People should have choice! We shouldn't force them to use a particular format!" we were told without rhyme or reason. And so thousands of dollars will be spent equipping the new Windows machines with a product that doesn't even support an open standard. There was no further opportunity to state the case so all I could do was reflect on the irony in believing proprietary formats offer "choice." Disheartening, to say the least.

In the end though, there was a small but very significant victory. It was as if the insanity of forcing the entire school to adopt Microsoft products finally dawned upon the powers that be. Perhaps enough committee members rallied hard enough to push the door open just a crack. Regardless, that crack is significant. I can now teach my classes using a free platform as one lab - my classroom - will function fully in a free software environment. I was told that "this isn't a good decision" but a "compromise." I didn't see a point in responding. So this means that all students will receive instruction using free software. There will be one haven in a sea of proprietary technology. I'll make the best of what we now have. We now have a small cocoon.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Global Warming and Hockey's Biggest Prize

I wonder if anyone has noticed that as "An Inconvenient Truth" opens in theaters, it's decided that it's the Oilers vs. Hurricanes in the NHL Stanley Cup final.

Captain Copyright to the Rescue?

Thanks to Michael Geist for pointing out some blatant propaganda all educators serious about 21st-century copyright should avoid like the plague.

Michael hits the nail on the head in reference to the exercises teachers may download and have their students do:
"They are an embarrassment that should not find their way into any classroom in the country."

Jonathan Kozol Hates Microsoft!

I teach technology classes and act as the technology coordinator at a small international school in west Africa. Almost 2 years ago I presented to the school board the idea of testing free software as a possible replacement for our predominantly Microsoft Windows machines.

The time had come to order hardware and the school needed to make a decision. We were to order new machines and decide upon the software systems for the student/teacher computers across campus. To ensure any recommendation was collaborative, a technology committee was formed and I was to present a proposal. This meeting was just over one month ago. Although there were a few skeptics on the committee, by the time the presentation was done, the committee unanimously agreed to move all student and teacher machines to free software beginning the 2006/07 school year.

Though the committee put forth its unanimous recommendation, apparently the ultimate decision lay in the hands of one person - the director. Yesterday, the technical aide and I were called in for a meeting on short-notice and handed a letter by the director. Following are some key excerpts:
"In April 2006, the decision was accepted to convert predominantly to the use of free and open source software for [school] computers, with new computers to be ordered without Windows or any other proprietary software. However, the appropriateness of this plan has since been reconsidered for the overall benefit of the school as an educational organization."
I was stunned. Reconsidered? By whom? The letter went on to offer "reasons" why:
"[...] due to numerous recommendations forthcoming from the US Embassy, the State Department, and technology professionals involved in providing services to international schools worldwide, it has been decided that the switch to open source software on such a large scale is premature, and has therefore been reversed."
When I asked for the names of the "US Embassy" and "State Department" consultants with whom the director spoke, I was told that this information was "confidential." I then asked the director to - at the very least - ask these anonymous individuals if they would be willing to come forth so that an honest dialog regarding this matter might occur. I was told that this would be "inappropriate" though I wasn't given a reason why.

The letter went on:
"We are not interested in being 'cutting edge' in this area, nor will such a change be made as an ideological stance or only to save money."
I wondered who was "we", considering the technology committee (whose members were hand-picked by the director) had made a unanimous recommendation to switch to free software. I also mentioned that if this is the case, we should make some fundamental changes to our School Wide Aims and Philosophy as stated in our teacher handbook. For example, we say that "it is important to be knowledgeable about and adaptable to emerging technology" and that students "develop a personal code of ethics for responsible world citizenship." And although I agree that money should not be the primary concern, I wondered about the appropriateness of throwing thousands of dollars away on proprietary software - especially considering we're a non-profit organization.

The letter went on:
"Time spent during the school day installing open source software and the ensuing time and labor required for converting programs, repairing documents, etc. is not part of your duties and has detracted not only from your teaching responsibilities but also from advancing the school technologically. While open source software may of course be used as per individual preference, time during the school day is no longer to be used for any technical tasks having to do with the installation, conversion, etc. of open source software."
I don't know what I found more absurd. The claim that free and open source software has "detracted" from my teaching responsibilities (as if proprietary software doesn't demand just as much of my time?) or the fact that I was now forbidden to do any "technical tasks" regarding free and open source software.

There were other points in the letter that seemed to be taken straight from the proprietary software hymn book. Free and open source software was not only an issue because of the "time and labor" involved but an issue because of the "incompatibility" of office documents. As well, with a free software platform teachers are "prohibited from ordering new software they find attractive." Even though all of these issues were directly addressed in the committee meeting and understood to be completely false, solvable, or a relatively minor sacrifice, it was disingenuously presented as a sudden revelation of hindrances.

The letter went on:
"You have expressed strong opinions against Microsoft, obvious from comments made by teachers and students, statements posted on your classroom door, etc. In accordance with Personnel Section 5.032 e) Code of Professional Ethics, "All staff should refrain from proselytizing for a personal, political, or religious belief." Therefore, you need to refrain from placing undue focus on your personal beliefs concerning the philosophy and practice of Microsoft."
At first, I wasn't sure if I should burst out loud laughing or feel defensive. While its true that I'm a worshipper at the church of Emacs, in seriousness I consider myself fairly aware of the issues, technology, and history behind free and proprietary software. In fact, I wondered how I was to continue teaching the high school Technology in a Global Society class and its unit on copyright and patent law without placing focus on the practices of Microsoft...or Ubuntu or Red Hat for that matter. But the icing on the cake was this perception that I had anti-Microsoft "statements posted on [my] classroom door". Naturally, I questioned this claim and stated that there must be some misunderstanding as I have never posted any anti-Microsoft propaganda on my door. When I was challenged then - very confidently and abruptly - to disclose what had been posted on my door, I let the director know. The quote was by Jonathan Kozol, partly in regard to the fashionable yet vapid and destructive "accountability" and high-stakes "standardized testing" movement (an ideology supported by the new director) epitomized by the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. It said -
"The best reason to give a child a good so that a child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in competing with SONY... There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of sheer greed."
Personally, I have no idea what Jonathan Kozol thinks of free software or Microsoft. But now I'm curious.