Free/Libre and Open Standards

It is said that vendor-defendant file and communications formats are the "second hand smoke" issue of the Internet. Before consumers/citizens can be said to have choice on ICT there must be a strong government support for free/libre and vendor neutral standards.

Compatability worries fuel battle over iPod law

This Toronto Star article by Michael Geist includes:

Apple, along with rivals such as Sony and Dell, use proprietary formats that limit consumers' ability to easily transfer songs between competing devices, leaving some fearful that their investment in digital music files will permanently be consigned to a single device that may become obsolete.

While not discussed in this article, many believe that these incompatibilities are a far greater contributor to the decline of music sales than the unsubstantiated claim that unauthorized P2P distribution is the source. The lack of a guarantee of vendor neutral standards is one of the reasons why I do not purchase digital media.

Why open standards matter

A Newsforge article by Tina Gasperson reported from Government Day, a sub-conference at LinuxWorld.

Speaking to the audience of government workers, Villa said, "Maybe 2006 is not the year that Linux ends up on your desktops." But, he encouraged them, if they begin using software that supports open standards now, such as Firefox and, then when Linux is ready it will be that much easier to make a switch. "And maybe you'll decide not to make that switch," Villa said. "But at least the choice will be yours."

Norway Promoting Open-Source Software

An Associated Press article discusses how The Ministry of Government Administration and Reform for Norway has decided to promote vendor-neutral IT standards to reduce the dependency on incumbent vendors. I'm not sure why this is an announcement, given most governments have fair procurement policies and trade policies which already mandate such things. Is this simply another government announcing that it finally plans to allow in IT the same accountability and free market competition that has always been enforced in other sectors?

OCRI is hosting a half-day conference on April 21 that will include GOSLING's co-coordinator Joseph Potvin (Senior Economic Analyst, CIO Branch, Treasury Board of Canada) who will be discussing Intellectual Resources Canada (IRCan). Technical people could summarize IRCan as a "SourceForge" for the Government of Canada that will go beyond software to other government managed knowledge. Joseph is always talking about how Canada doesn't need to make a big announcement about a support for vendor-neutral standards or FLOSS, but needs to properly follow existing accountable government processes.

Neuros: sensible politics from a hardware vendor.

I receive a newsletter from Neuros who make a great audio (and now video) recorder and playback device. The software is FLOSS, which fully protects the rights of the owners of these devices to tinker with what they own. The most recent newsletter included the following:


The Neuros Recorder 2, the Neuros 442, and the future Recorder product line will capture anything that plays on your TV. This includes anything from cable, DVD, VHS tape, or satellite dish. Our gadget will record "Lost" and play it on your computer or handheld devices without the $2 fee through the iTunes store. We think it's a little crazy to pay for a show that was free the night before. We also think it's unfair to have to pay for a movie a second time just because you want to watch it on a different type of device (like a PSP). There is currently legislation in congress working to make our product and other recorders illegal someday. This is shocking, as this is really just a modern version of the VCR.

Neuros is one of the few independent manufacturers motivated to fight for consumer rights, and we believe those rights are eroding over time. Some products record from TV, but many do so in proprietary formats that restrict the use of the files that the user has created for their own use. We think these issues are important, and we think it’s our role to share our views on these issues. To read about our stance in greater depth, please check out

CBC condones "software piracy"

(A variation of this posting has been sent to the CBC via their "Contact Us" page)

In the past, I've explained to friends why the CBC's use of Windows Media Player's streaming format disables access to the site for Linux and FLOSS users. The gist of this argument has been that there's no Windows Media Player software available on Linux. This forces the Linux user into purchasing a copy of Microsoft Windows in order to listen.

Recently, a friend sent me a link to the updated "Listen to CBC Page" which now contains a solution for Linux users. The technical solution now proposed on the CBC web page is MPlayer.

eWeek and their defective DRM-encumbered electronic delivery system.

I have been a long-time subscriber of eWeek magazine. When I received a request to renew it contained a question about whether I wanted the magazine delivered to me on paper or electronically. Being both a technical person and an environmentalist, I changed my subscription from paper to electronic.

I was more than a bit surprised to find out that this was not a standards-based document. They are delivering content in a format which can only be read with a proprietary viewer called the Zinio Reader on either an Apple Macintosh or Microsoft Windows computer. I do not run proprietary software on either my office or home computers, especially not software from either Apple or Microsoft who are companies who actively lobby against my business and personal interests.

I consider it offensive that eWeek did not adequately document this issue, and instead had a tiny little checkbox with no explanation of the security, interoperability and other implications of their electronic delivery system.

Interview with the "inventor" of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

BCS (The British Computer Society Ltd) did an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the person who primarily designed the protocols (HTTP) and markup language (HTML) that formed what we call the World Wide Web.

Programming is always about reassembling existing stuff - novel ideas are rare. Even with the development of the Web hypertext was already there and so on.

A bright idea is OK, but getting people to adopt common standards is impeded by patents. At W3C we have a working group that had to stop work on a project for 18 months (a lot in Web years!) to answer a patent issue. This affected the livelihood of people in companies that were doing really good work.

Apple calls interoperability and competition 'state-sponsored piracy'

I hope people are watching this story closely. France just passed a draconian law that gives circumventing technical measures a very high penalty. Along with this they are demanding a tiny level of interoperability, something consistent with the 1991 European directive on the legal protection of computer programs (91/250/EEC). This directive did not offer copyright on interfaces, and specifically allowed reverse engineering. The preamble also explained the importance of interoperability in computing, concepts largely reneged on with directive 2001/29/EC "on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society" which implements the anti-competitive 1996 WIPO treaties. It is simply not possible to protect both interoperability/competition and technical measures which presume the owner of the device is the attacker, as they are opposing concepts.

Apple is claiming (See CNET article by Elinor Mills) that this is "state sponsored piracy". Interoperability and free market competition is "piracy"? Time to use what little market influence we have and boycott Apple, putting them into the same category of out-of-touch extremists as the RIAA, MPAA, etc.

A tale of two competitions...

I have a theory when it comes to what is happening in France, and I am looking for feedback.

In the pay-per-download music marketplace there are really only a few groups of competitors: Apples "FairPlay", sites using the Microsoft DRM (Puretracks, Napster, etc, etc), sites using RealNetworks or other obscure DRM, and DRM-free files. The bill makes clear that compatibility with DRM-free files will not be offered, since converting to a DRM-free file has excessive penalties.

Apple dominates this market, and Microsoft is not happy with this. Microsoft and their dependants (The major labels seem to be in this camp) have been lobbying hard to make Apples FairPlay compatible with Microsoft's DRM. The government and these lobbiests can't be honest and name Microsoft, so they claim to be trying to make all DRM compatible, even if there are really only two competitors worthy of mention.

Pushing a rope in France?

I have to admit that I'm confused by recent bills passed by France. On one hand they have increased the penalties for circumventing technical measures (ab)used by copyright holders, which are predominantly used to tie the unlocking of encrypted content with specific brands of access technology which contain the vendor-dependant keys. On the other hand they are claiming they want to "open up" this DRM so that there is interoperability.

Will this DRM be "opened up" so that it can be implemented by FLOSS? Any technology that is implemented in FLOSS must allow the owner of the device to "run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software", meaning that the owner of the device has their rights to be in control of what they own protected. Any technology that assumes that the owner is the attacker, which represents most DRM, is fundamentally incompatible with FLOSS and the concept of interoperability.

My only guess is that the French parliament doesn't understand these issues well enough to realize that they are trying to "push a rope", and that what they are doing will create massive uncertainty and will fail at whatever goals they have set.

See: The Register: France votes for DRM interop

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