slef-reflections on FSF


Skype

2007-08-10 (Permalink): Matt Lee commented:

"MJ,

I'm disappointed that you'd think the FSF would use Skype. Further, to post it, without a retraction that I can see, helps neither the FSF nor yourself.

A clarification above the post would be nice. I just found this post via a search for something else, and so it has now reached the search engines.

Hope you're well,

matt"

Thanks for the comment. Hope you're well, too.

Just to be clear, right at the top, I didn't think FSF would use Skype. That's why I was so bloody surprised when the radio interview made it sound like they did! I almost spluttered breakfast across the room...

It was worth posting, because it got the interview clarified, which wouldn't have happened otherwise. I found out later that FSF's systems apparently deleted my email unread, without delivering it to Peter Brown, or anyone else who could answer the questions.

The FSF guest's reply and my apology are on the same page as my original here along with a call for help summarising the need for free-software-friendly VoIP. I've also changed the "preface" post to try to make it absolutely clear. If anyone is mirroring my page and hasn't copied the retraction, please let them know.

By the way, I was called over Skype today, for the first time that I'm aware of. The caller told me they used Skype and the VoIP artefacts were pretty noticeable. Is that usual? I guess that could be how Peter Brown knew it was an interview over a Skype call.

2007-07-24 (Permalink): Preface: I'm aware that my surprise at FSF using Skype (Update: actually, they don't directly, see the explanation below) does raise the old question "where do you draw the line?" - For example, do you refuse to use the fixed-line telephone system if your exchanges are not running free software?

Me, I use the telephone system because it's effectively a monopoly and we don't have an alternative that works for me. I sometimes try to nibble at the system with the Phone Co-op and more VoIP use, but it's no fun banging my head against a wall. However, I boycott Skype because I can't tell what it's doing, there have been enough bad reports that I don't trust it and the alternatives of SIP and IAX work for me, but I expected FSF not to use Skype for idealistic reasons.

FSF leaders like RMS have promoted things like Why schools should exclusively use free software [by Richard Stallman], carefully corrected inaccurate claims about free software and refused to mention some proprietary software products. They were often criticised for it, but they continued to do it (for good reasons IMO, even when I disagreed with them).

So, FSF's Controller giving an interview over Skype seemed a rather surprising about-face. Then the interviewer claimed "Skype is free" and it went unchallenged. After the show, I sent the email...

2007-07-24 (Permalink): I just sent this: Dear FSF,

On the Radio New Internationalist show "Up in Smoke", during an interview with Peter Brown of FSF (about 43 minutes in), I was surprised to hear the following revelation that FSF uses Skype and the failure to challenge the claim that Skype is free software:

"Peter Brown: ... This interview today is being transmitted through Skype. We're talking through Skype. Now, that obviously is a direct threat to the entrenched telecoms and they would like to restrict that, to lower the quality of the voice connection and they want to do that with lots of other types of transmission.

Rachel Maher: And can they do that? Because Skype of course is free and there's a really direct benefit for organisations like ours, which is a non-profit organisation using Skype technology. Will they be able to do that?

Peter Brown: Yes, so what they can do is easily identify types of information being passed, so what they can typically do is downgrade the service that you're using, so that - for instance, voice communication - those packets of data can be slowed down, effectively making voice communciation more difficult. Now this can only really be achieved if they're able to manipulate legislation. Unfortunately, they have a long history of being very successful at this. I mentioned earlier on that Digital Restrictions Management are a threat to our freedoms because it's allowing them to erect gateways and to control what it is that we can view and do with our computers. ..."

I was disappointed not to find much on the FSF web site about the need for free VoIP software, building on GNU oSIP and other free software, instead of Skype's proprietary software, which has contained spyware and worms already. Will you be adding such information soon? What is the official FSF view of Skype and similar proprietary VoIP systems?

Nevertheless, well done for covering DRM, net neutrality and the privacy problems of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft in a relatively short interview.

Regards, MJR

2007-07-25 (Permalink): Peter Brown replied:

"Thanks for the message. Here are some comments on the issues you raise:

"> - On the Radio New Internationalist show "Up in Smoke", during an interview with Peter Brown of FSF (about 43 minutes in), I was surprised to hear the following revelation that FSF uses Skype and the failure to challenge the claim that Skype is free software:"

The FSF doesn't use Skype. I would appreciate if you would clarify that on your blog post. The interviewer used Skype to telephone me on an FSF telephone. I agree that from what I said, it would be easy to infer that FSF uses Skype, but it doesn't. The interview lasted about an hour and we covered a lot of ground. Also, in this exchange I didn't clarify for the listener that when the interviewer remarked that "Skype was free", they meant as in price, but not as in freedom.

"> - I was disappointed not to find much on the FSF web site about the need for free VoIP software, building on GNU oSIP and other free software, instead of Skype's proprietary software, which has contained spyware and worms already. Will you be adding such information soon? What is the official FSF view of Skype and similar proprietary VoIP systems?"

Skype is proprietary and we don't use it. In that section of the interview we were discussing telecoms monopoly and net neutrality, and I lost the focus on the free software issue - my bad. As far as adding an article about VOIP on fsf.org I think that's a great idea. Unfortunately, I don't think we can cover that immediately, as we have some campaigns we have other campaign activities to focus on. We would be glad to take a contribution though, if you would like to write such an article - we might also want to think about using such an article as a basis for a campaign.

"> - Nevertheless, well done for covering DRM, net neutrality and the privacy problems of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft in a relatively short interview."

Thanks. I actually used to work at the New Internationalist in Oxford, and they are a great coop. I have been working with them now for a couple of years, tying to encourage them to cover free software related issues for their audience. Have you seen the article Bruce Byfield (Newsforge) wrote that I got placed in the November issue of the magazine?

all the best

peter"

Thanks for the reply! To my shame, I'd completely forgotten that Skype can also call ordinary telephones and the interview didn't remind me. Sorry about that. I guess that might be because my main awareness of Skype is when it's a problem, when someone gives a skype: address instead of a sip: one or a real phone number.

However, I'm not sure a called person would usually say that they were being called over Skype, rather than being telephoned. FSF people are smarties, though, so can hear the artefacts, or maybe the interviewer had mentioned it beforehand.

Anyone else want to summarise the benefits of free software VoIP compared to Skype systems? I won't get time before next month.

kris commented:

"There's openwengo, it has more features than skype (i.e. video), is encrypted, open and free. Enjoy."

I keep meaning to try openwengo, but each time I look at it, I fail to find the source tarball for the latest release. It also seems to be Qt-only, which I also try to avoid installing (as it'd be a fourth set of desktop widgets).

At the moment, I'm using linphone from the command-line. I sometimes consider replacing it with a stand-alone telephone adapter. I wonder: are any running free software?

2007-07-26 (Permalink): chithanh wrote:

"For OpenWengo source, you may have a look here: http://packages.qa.debian.org/w/wengophone.html (link at the bottom) or at the OpenWengo community site "

I'd forgotten about the debian source tarballs. D'oh! The OpenWengo community site doesn't seem to have source tarballs.

blix asked:

"Did ever test Gizmo? Gizmo Project is the baby of the team who built the SIPphone VoIP platform."

No, I didn't. Where's the source download?

Damien Merenne commented:

"I opted for a fritzbox which allows you to use your analog phone to make calls over SIP. No need to mess with software and firewall problems. Just create a SIP account, plug your phone in the box and it works."

Interesting. Looks like it might have source code on the FTP site but I've not checked further yet.

Allard Hoeve commented:

"I decided to look at WengoPhone as a result of your post. The source is indeed well hidden, but a bit of poking around in the FAQ lead me to: http://dev.openwengo.com/trac/openwengo/trac.cgi/wiki/GetTheSourceWengoPhoneNg

Regards, Allard

PS: Doh! "

I've seen the d'oh, but there's no source tarball on GetTheSourceWengoPhoneNg, only a subversion URL. I don't have subversion installed, I don't want it installed and I think releases should have a corresponding source tarball, else it's a snapshot, not a proper release. I just want to build it, not become a core committer.

2007-07-27 (Permalink): chithanh wrote:

"Of course the OpenWengo community site has the source tarball. It is the first download on this link "

Oh! Last time, I clicked "Download" and then "get the source" which takes you to a different place with no tarball. I didn't scroll down that initial page. What a confusing site - a typical trac?

kris commented:

"OpenWengo sources seem to be here: "

blix commented:

"mmm... It seems that Gizmo is another fake Open Source app. it uses SIPphone but its source code is proprietary; At least I couldn't find any source code on the Linux download page; "

Thanks for the source explanations!


The Fellowship Raffle

Notes on a Scandal

FSFE launched a raffle to encourage more people to join. I don't find it particularly attractive, which is probably partly because of my statistics education. I'll join FSFE when they stop promoting non-free-software like the notorious FDL.

As it turns out, my reaction was pretty mild compared to some existing fellows. There was a discussion on the main FSFE international list flaming them for including the "likeable mask"-wearing Nokia N800 and an ex-Qt-locked Greenphone among the prizes.

GNU Project Chief Webmaster Matt Lee wrote:

"I don't think this is appropriate, or wise. Further, it makes me want to not support FSF Europe."

Pretty early on, FSFE's Jonas Oberg wrote:

"Actually, this is news to all of us. [...] if there's no way to liberate the hardware before sending it out, we might well have to withdraw those prizes from the raffle to avoid sending non-free software to anyone."

but the flamefest continues unabated. As is sadly common on free software-related lists, the moderators have not stepped in with the fire blankets yet.

(Some also found it worth reposting old lies about debian, which drew me onto the list to rebut them. sigh Way to go FSF fans.)

Aside: Savannah has suffered a hardware failure in case you were wondering where cvs.savannah.* went.

Update: some of the prizes have been withdrawn from the raffle. I think all the controversial ones have been pulled.

Jon Atkinson asked about my intro:

""I'll join FSFE when they stop promoting non-free-software like the notorious FDL."

This is not something which I have heard of before; could you possibly expand a little on this?"

I think the best thing is to point to my FDL page rather than repeat the argument here.


Don't Let Europe Turn Its Citizens into Copycriminals!

Sign EFF's Petition Against IPRED2

On April 24th, the European Parliament will vote on IPRED2, the Second Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive. With one stroke, they risk turning thousands of innocent EU citizens and businesses into copycriminals.

If IPRED2 passes in its current form, "aiding, abetting, or inciting" copyright infringement on a "commercial scale" in the EU will become a crime. (Source)


Software Patents

james wrote:

"I came across your page. I wanted to suggest adding a link to http://www.FreePatentsOnline.com This is a free patent searching site with PDF downloading, world patent searching, alerts, and other account functions -- all free. It is a great resource for intellectual property professionals, reearchers, students, small businesses, and anyone else who needs such legal or scientific information."

I thought the idea was that we shouldn't search for invalid patents, because ignorant infringement is punished less severely than wilful infringement?

Joe Buck replied:

"Well, yes, there's the matter of triple damages for "willful infringement". That only kicks in once a court has found you liable, but it's an issue.

There's been a change in the last few days though; a recent US Supreme Court decision should lead to a very large number of software patents getting tossed (though unfortunately they would have to be challenged one by one).

My take: free software developers shouldn't go searching for bad patents. But people like the EFF and the SFLC should, the better to get those bad patents tossed."

Comments are moderated (damn spammers) but almost anything sensible gets approved (albeit eventually). If you give a web address, I'll link it. I won't publish your email address unless you ask me to, but I'll email you a link when the comment is posted, or the reason why it's not posted.

This is copyright 2007 MJ Ray. See fuller notice on front page.