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Interview with Lawrence Lessig

June 9th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

The Guardian interviews Lawrence Lessig and learns about the beginning of his interest in cyber law and the start of the Free Culture movement.

“This insight – that computer code (the “architecture”) can function as a kind of law in the online world – lies at the heart of Lessig’s first book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. As he soon realised, “the most interesting context for that was intellectual property”, because there were examples of code trumping law – notably digital rights management.

There was another reason why Lessig focused on this area. “It wasn’t a fair fight: all the great lawyers were on the side of IP maximalism [the view that intellectual property (IP) should be protected forever] because they were all hired by Hollywood. So I kind of felt like a lawyer with a guilty conscience, and just got into it to try to see if there was a way to balance it.”

Lessig founded the Free Culture movement to bring the ideals of Free Software to the larger community of culture creators.

“Lessig has made the book [Free Culture] freely available online (http://free-culture.org/freecontent/), using a licence drawn up by his Creative Commons project, set up in 2001 as another response to the extension of copyright. Through these licences, which hand back to users some rights granted by copyright to creators – such as those to make copies or derivative works – Lessig hopes to provide a legal framework in which free culture can bloom.

The analogy with Richard Stallman’s GNU General Public License is evident: “I think of the free culture movement as inspired by the free software movement,” Lessig says. “I think it’s going to be a more significant movement than the free software movement because whatever the importance of the freedom of coders, coders will still be just a tiny proportion of the public, but culture is … much broader.”

The ideal for copyright reform, in Lessig’s view, is to return the statute to its roots and strip away much of the additional powers it has been granted in recent years. He also suggests several adaptations to make copyright more appropriate in light of the unique capabilities enabled by digital media and the internet.

“Lessig would like to see copyright reduced to 14 years, renewable to 28, as laid down by the 1710 Statute of Anne, the basis of all subsequent legislation in the UK and many countries. He also wants the emphasis on copying as the trigger for copyright to be removed. “In a digital age, copying is as natural as breathing” – every web page you view is technically a copy – “and the idea that the law should be invoked every time there’s a trigger of copying is totally inefficient.” He suggests a different approach: “[If] you’re distributing something publicly for commercial purposes then that’s the appropriate thing to be taxing with the copyright act.”

More realistically, Lessig is trying to limit the damage that copyright extensions cause to culture by requiring people to register for them, rather than receiving them automatically. “The vast majority would never request the extension, and so most stuff would pass into the public domain and the cost of perpetually extending copyrights would disappear.”

John “maddog” Hall on FOSS in the Developing World

June 7th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

One of the reasons for my interest in FOSS is that it can be used in the developing world to improve the lives of people without much money for high technology tools. John “maddog” Hall was interviewed by Newsforge about his involvement with FOSS in South Africa:

“In 2001 I was invited to Johannesburg to talk about FOSS software by LinuxAfrica, a local user group that was putting on a small but nice event. In 2003 Hewlett Packard invited me to both Johannesburg and Cape Town for a FOSS “road show.” In 2005 I was invited to Linuxworld South Africa in Johannesburg, and this year I came back again. I have seen a steady increase in the interest and usage of FOSS in South Africa. I believe this has been boosted recently by the actions of Mark Shuttleworth and the Ubuntu project as well as the efforts of the Meraka Institute and its projects.

I think it is exciting that OpenOffice.org and other FOSS software has been able to be translated into African languages so it is easier for African people to use.”

And I really like this quote from Hall:

“There are some universities that are now using FOSS to train their computer science students, but others are still using closed source proprietary software. I do not understand why any university is not at least starting to go down the path of FOSS software. FOSS software not only teaches you what the software does, but allows you to see how it does it. It also allows you to participate in creating the software.

I also have experienced high schools teaching with FOSS software in other countries. They assemble their own computer labs out of cast-off hardware and install their own software. This teaches the students pride in accomplishment as well as computer science.”

Updegrove: “Spotlight on StarOffice 8.0″

June 6th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Andy Updegrove has published the third interview in his zeitgeist of the ODF ecosystem, “The Emerging ODF Environment Part III: Spotlight on StarOffice 8.0.”

Updegrove begins, “In this third in-depth interview focusing on ODF-compliant office productivity suites, I interviewed Erwin Tenhumberg, Sun’s Product Marketing Manager, Client Systems Group (Erwin’s own blog is called Erwin’s StarOffice Tango). This series of interviews, and the other activities I have planned to follow, are intended to illustrate the rich environment of applications and tools that are evolving around the OpenDocument Format (ODF) specification developed by OASIS, and now adopted by ISO/IEC. (You can find the previous interview with Inge Wallin of KOffice here, and with Louis Suarez-Potts and John McCreesh of OpenOffice.org here).”

Taiwan to Require Linux Compatible Hardware

June 5th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Jason Tan of the Taipei Times reports “Government says all new PCs must be Linux-friendly.”

From the article: “The government-run Central Trust of China has mandated for the first time that all desktop computers purchased from now on must be Linux-compatible, demonstrating the government’s desire to widen the nation’s usage of open source software.

“It is a global trend that Linux is gaining wider adoption due to its lower costs and better adaptability,” Mike Lin (???), a consultant at the Taipei Computer Association (TCA), told the Taipei Times yesterday…

About 120,000 desktops will be procured during the 11th and 12th tenders, the report said.

“In the past, some of the procured computers did not support Linux, therefore this new mandate signifies the government’s push to reduce reliance on the Windows operating system,” Lin said.”

Not bad, but there is more:

“In the legislative session held late last year, legislators reached an additional consensus that there should be a 25 percent cut of procurement budget on Microsoft’s products across all government agencies, citing that the solutions which monopolize the market are too expensive.”

It looks like Taiwan will be introducing a lot of open source, or else Microsoft will blink and drop their prices to delay FOSS’ incursion for a little longer.

Ubuntu 6.06 LTS Released

June 2nd, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Ubuntu Linux has released its new version, 6.06 LTS (“Long-term Support”), as of June 1.

Ubuntu has long been my favorite Linux distribution. It’s beautiful, stable, easy to use, and strongly “Free” in the sense of Free Speech (as well as free-of-cost). This release really represents its maturation.