Is there a place for (not so) Open Source?

October 1, 2009 at 17:41 | Posted in Free (as in Freedom) Software, thoughts | Comments Off on Is there a place for (not so) Open Source?
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With my recent move to a totally free, as in freedom, operating system I find myself wondering about the dominance of Ubuntu. I would gladly see gNewSense jump to the top of the DistroWatch list. But I think this is probably unrealistic.

There is still far too much proprietary hardware (particularly wifi cards) that require binary blob drivers. Certainly people are not going to be happy if they have to have a half crippled computer and loose access to proprietary codecs and applications.

So, What if we think of (not so) “Open Source” software like Ubuntu and many other modern GNU/Linux Distros out there as a middle ground. As a stepping stone on the way to total freedom.

Creating this atmosphere would require a couple of things. A more declarative stance on the part of distros that include binary blobs in their kernel. “Now with an 80% free kernel” and a much stronger declaration every time a user of such a distro installs a non free application.

I personally would like to see a set up in which every non free application throws up a large red warning stating that the application in question violates X,X and X of your essential rights, and goes on to list the possible or in some cases known threats that the closed source software poses (“This application is used to tracks your browsing habits” (Flash-nonfree), “May disclose private information to unknown parties. (we don’t know. We can’t look at the code)” (Skype, etal).

I think in this way that people would begin to understand better what they are doing, what the risks are, and why they might not want to do that. I would also like to see such warnings offer free software alternatives, such as offering Gnash when someone tries to install flash-nonfree with a explanation that Gnash respects your rights and freedoms.

Of course we would also need something to prevent people from just clicking through without reading the important information so perhaps requiring the user to type in “I agree to have my rights violated and my freedoms taken away” in order to proceed.. (well o.k. maybe a check box beside the same phrase.. But really I think having people actually type it would be more thought provoking.)

With steps like those listed above the Murky Source distros could truly claim their place. Not Free (as in freedom). But not as bad as the oppressive tyranny you’ve been living with to date.

A sort of first step out of the dungeon to let people adjust to sunshine, fresh air, and wide open spaces again. These things can be shocking and confusing to people that have been stuck in dark cell for years.

Epiphany – the overlooked browser

September 2, 2009 at 16:10 | Posted in Cool, Tech, XO | 2 Comments
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When I switched to gNewSense I decided to go ahead and use Epiphany as it is set as the default browser. I am pleased to say that I was quite surprised by this browser. I admit that I was a little sceptical about using Epiphany. I figured that a lot of websites would break and that it would lack a lot of the functionality that I had become accustomed to with Firefox.

When I first started using Epiphany it seemed a little light and seemed to be lacking some of the features I had thought it had. I double checked and found out that the Epiphany plug-ins were not installed so I put those in. Once I did that it had ad-blocking on par with what one finds in various Firefox plug-ins. The plug-ins also offered several new features/functions some of which I’ve yet to play with. It would take more space then I am willing at this point to spend to enumerate them all but there is something for everyone.

In studying up on Epiphany I have found out that the plug-ins are almost trivial to write and I may take a crack at one down the road.

Epiphany renders sites quickly and accurately. It is much lighter then Firefox. I was so impressed by its performance and lightness that it is now the default browser on my XO’s Ubuntu install.

Although it lacks the ability to clear all data on exit it seems to flush cookies when you exit and the option to clear all the other data is trivial to find “edit->preferences->privacy->clear”. and does indeed clear thing up nicely. The only thing I feel it is lacking is the NoScript plug-in.

I would definitely recommend Epiphany to anyone that is looking for a fast, light, extensible, and friendly browser. I feel that this browser has been sadly overlooked and that too many Gnome based distros are doing users a dis-service by installing Firefox as the default browser.

So go ahead and give Epiphany a try.

Live Free (A.K.A living in gNewSense)

September 2, 2009 at 15:09 | Posted in Cool, Life, Tech | 2 Comments
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A while ago I migrated my main laptop to gNewSense. It’s been a couple of weeks now so thought I should post my thoughts and experiences. The first thing I have noticed is that my machine seems to run faster. Not hugely so, but it definitely has more “perky” feel then Ubuntu Jaunty did. As I mentioned in my previous post moving to all Libre (or “free as in speech”) software has had a few challenges. I currently can watch just about zero flash video. Not a great loss really, and also in line with my flash reduced diet. I’m guessing version-next of gNewsense will be a little better on the flash as it will have a newer gnash installed . However as I personally dislike Flash I’ll just wait till Epiphany has html 5 support.

As gNewSense is currently based on an older version of Ubuntu than what I was using there have been a couple of minor regressions. Rhythmbox is having a old problem with some podcasts that was fixed in the more recent versions. The podcasts work. the file names just end up a little messy. Again not a biggie.

The repositories still need a little cleaning up as there are a couple of packages listed (like Revelation) that can’t be installed because they have dependencies that were removed due to the fact that they were not Libre. I know these little wrinkles will get ironed out but the above example was a little annoying to me as I was using Revelation to store my passwords and part of my process before installing gNewSense was to look in the repository and see that it would have the packages I needed. Again, not a show stopper, just annoying. I have moved my passwords to a fully Libre program and all is fine now.

The only real gotcha I ran into is that I use encfs to store personal files and one of my encfs folders (a more recently created one) had been made with encfs 6 and gNewSense has encfs 5 which was surprisingly (I jest) not forward compatible.. This meant that I needed to jump through several hoops to fix this.

The process looked like… create a new encfs folder (with gNewSense encfs 5). boot into ubuntu live, install encfs, mount both the old and new encfs folders, copy from the old encfs6 to the new encfs5 folder. delete the old encfs folder, boot back into gNewSense. Again more hassle then show stopper but something that I would have been easier to take care of before installing gNewSense.

Aside from the above few annoyances some of which are strictly migration pains and thus very temporary. I am really enjoying gNewSense. It is what I want my Linux to be. I enjoy knowing that nothing in my system promotes the problems one sees with closed source. I am one of the crowd that feels that binary blobs will if not stopped will take on a life of their own. If hardware manufacturers get the message that closed source drivers are acceptable that will be all they will produce. If however we (the community) send a clear message that we will not use closed source drivers and by extension the hardware it drives Manufacturers will produce open source drivers. Manufacturers are driven by the bottom line. they want to sell their hardware.. If given a clear message they will produce what the market demands.

Towards a Free (as in speech) system – (or Flash Reduced diet #3)

July 25, 2009 at 13:14 | Posted in Life, Tech, XO | 3 Comments
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It seems that one of the side effects of my Flash reduced diet is a desire to get away from all restricted formats. In looking back I can see that this journey actually began when I got my OLPC XO during last years Give 1 Get 1 program. As I progress on this journey I am stripping away more and more of my reliance on restricted/patent encumbered formats. I am also working hard to rid my systems of any Proprietary binary blobs or software with restrictive or anti-social licenses. I have cleaned up Ubuntu on my main laptop as much as I can and am now looking into replacing Ubuntu with gNewSense. The main stumbling block to doing so is the fact that my main laptop is my Asterisk/Voip centre and I’ll have to do the re-install at a time when there would be no incoming calls.

The thing that has surprised me is how little has broken. As I mentioned in my previous postings on Flash reduction things definitely do break, but nothing that I couldn’t easily live without.

My biggest concern was dropping restricted kernel modules as I feared that some of my hardware may cease to function. As it turns out I have been quite good at buying hardware that is fully supported by open source software. My next concern was that I might have trouble with Various media types but again nothing significant broke I can still watch the CBC news at night just fine. I did loose mplayer, VLC, and Avidemux that I had come to depend on but they have been replaced with other tools that do not have the licensing complications of those applications. I have managed to completely do away with the multiverse repositories on my main laptop.

My next challenge will be to do the same on the XO. This may be challenging as the XO is shipped with proprietary kernel modules for the wireless card. and I suspect the Video will be problematic. My Ultimate goal will be to get gNewSense on my main laptop and then work on porting it to the XO. It may well be worth the effort of porting to the XO even if the wireless doesn’t work as one can always add an external wireless card that is supported by Free software.

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