Libreboot and the Leah Rowe follies

Hopefully, this story has developed enough that it’s safe to write about now.

Not too long ago I was on IRC (Freenode #fsf) and someone pasted this URL linking to the Libreboot mailing list (all typos are as in the original, very slight snippage made for brevity):

Hi,

The Free Software Foundation recently fired a transgendered employee of the FSF, just for being trans, because some transphobic cissexist people wrote negativly about her. The FSF fired her because they thougdt she, rather than the assholes bullying her, was causing the FSF potential damage. As a result, she was fired from the FSF.

As a trans person myself, I find this disgusting.

I’m declaring here and now to the whole world that Libreboot is no longer part of the GNU project. I do not believe that the FSF or the GNU project deserve to exist.

[…]

Long live the LGBT community, and long live the free software movement. Meanwhile, FSF and GNU can both go fuck themselves.

-- 
Leah Rowe

Libreboot developer

Later that day, John Sullivan of the Free Software Foundation responded with this statement (quoted below in part):

This morning, an open email circulated in which the author said that the Free Software Foundation ended a relationship with one of our employees for discriminatory reasons.

Although it is our usual policy not to comment publicly on internal personnel matters for privacy reasons, we felt it necessary to state unequivocally that the allegations made in that email are untrue.

It is part of our job to celebrate and improve the diversity of the free software world. We have strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to help provide a safe and supportive working environment. […]

(Not quoted or linked above was a reply from Dr. Richard M. Stallman himself also denying Ms. Rowe’s accusations. You know stuff just got real when RMS has to take time out of whatever he usually does to respond.)

In the days since, no further details have come forth. Of the two, I am personally much more inclined to believe the FSF. Especially in light of the fact that Ms. Rowe claims to speak for the “libreboot community”, when in fact it is more likely she’s really only speaking for herself, per this post by Darnien Zammit on zammit.org:

Given the recent kerfuffle, and in spite of my vested interest in wanting to continue being paid to continue this important work [on the Libreboot project], I find it necessary to spell out a couple of facts I find important about the libreboot project and the libreboot community:

1) I have recently noticed that Leah Rowe is the only person who has git commit access to the website, libreboot.org, and also the only person who has git commit access to the codebase, which has only become a problem recently.

2) The codebase is a deblobbed coreboot repository, with patches from libreboot contributors (but committed by Leah), and a bunch of install scripts for ease of use.

3) We (the contributors) are not consulted about any of the views expressed on the libreboot.org website when they are hastily published by Leah.

So, whenever you read “We believe….” or “We say that…” on the lists and websites, Leah has ultimate control of the libreboot project currently. It is clear that this person has been misusing control of the project to spew out irrelevant personal opinions on behalf of the “libreboot community”, a singleton group of people consisting of … yes you guessed it, Leah Rowe.

I find it quite distasteful that someone like Ms. Rowe would take it upon herself to speak on behalf of the community which uses Libreboot. I doubt that the vast majority of the users approve of her profanity-filled exit from the GNU project. Honestly, not only does this look bad on Libreboot’s users, incidents like this add up to look bad on free software users in general.

It’s not really the use of profanity I mind as much as deciding to dissociate with a larger umbrella project like GNU over something like this. Especially given that it’s impossible to verify due to the fact names weren’t named, and the overwhelming¬†majority of free software users are going to give the FSF the benefit of the doubt. Even if there is a rogue manager at the FSF, I’d rather, we as a community, give the FSF¬†a chance to rectify the situation than have it splattered all over the net the way Ms. Rowe did.

I hope that someone forks Libreboot so the users who don’t want to be associated with Ms. Rowe in any form may choose otherwise. This is absurd and nobody who uses a free software project like Libreboot should have to put up with it.

In memoriam: Ian Murdock, founder of the Debian project

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Debian project founder Ian Murdock at the age of 42, per the blog post on Bits from Debian (bits.debian.org).

Without Ian’s work, neither Debian nor its many offshoots, including Ubuntu and Linux Router Project (discontinued), would have existed, and the landscape of the free software community would be radically different. I have used all three of the aforementioned projects and a few others based on Debian as well. I speak from experience when I say Ian’s contributions are some of the most far-reaching and helped set the pace and the tone for the free software community as a whole.

I appreciate Ian’s contributions to the free software community, in not only the technical sense, but the ethical and moral senses as well. The Bits from Debian post refers to the project’s stances on release engineering and software freedom as “the gold standards” in the community, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Ian leaves a substantial legacy to the free software community, and this despite the fact he has left us way too soon.

Rest in peace, Ian. You will be sorely missed.

The proprietary software cartel and the IIPA

Russell McOrmond’s blog entry on Digital Copyright Canada chronicles a recent statement by the IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance, a name which should have been avoided due to obvious bias). The IIPA attacks legally free software in their submissions to six different countries.

Now, having a legally free alternative to something like Microsoft Windows or Adobe Photoshop would in and of itself discourage infringement of those companies’ copyrights, particularly in countries where the economy simply cannot sustain the same (ridiculous, in my opinion) licensing fees as those charged in the US. As Russell states in his post:

The fact the IIPA is encouraging countries to have policies which increase infringement rather than have people switch to competing software is telling about their actual goals.

The idea of computer users having freedom is anathema to Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and other members of the proprietary software cartel. The prevalence of terminology like “open source” only serves to underscore the real problem: lack of comfort putting words like “free software” and “freedom” out in the open where they belong.

The proprietary software cartel thrives on this kind of thing; even Microsoft has thrown a few bones to the “open source” crowd, including their own hosting site Codeplex (a rather poor replacement for Sourceforge, with click-wrap licensing on the download pages that is gratuitously incompatible with non-Javascript browsers). Microsoft has also taken advantage of the confusion to release certain programs under licenses which look very similar to free software licenses, but which in fact require the derivative works to still run under Microsoft Windows. This is the danger of “open source” as these licenses no doubt would qualify under a layman’s definition of the term “open source” yet violate the core principle of the free software movement.

I had high hopes for Adobe truly freeing Flash after it acquired Macromedia (the originators of Flash). Instead, Flash is just as locked up as it always was. Thankfully PDF has not suffered the same fate–yet.

Indeed, the cartel which prospers by taking the freedom away from computer users would rather see those users give up their freedom and not pay the license fee, than choose freedom and use software not controlled by the cartel. It’s not unlike the drug pusher that offers the free hit.

And I know this is a bit of a tangent, but this is what burns me up about companies like Microsoft being allowed to pay off judgments in product; this plays right into their hands and is practically a reward for breaking the law. The next time Microsoft loses such a case, how about a judgment requiring a donation to the FSF and computer hardware shipped either with a GNU variant or without an operating system? For Adobe, how about a required donation to the GIMP and Inkscape development teams? You get the idea. That will be a deterrent.

Et tu, Google?

And Google joins the “you carry our phone in your pocket, but we still own it” club:

CNet reports on Google’s decision to nix a tethering application for its G1 phone from the Android Market. I can only wonder if this is the first in a series of arbitrary moves similar to those Apple has made.

I am almost as suspicious of Google with regard to Android as I am of Apple and its iPhone. Whether intentionally or not, Google is misleading people by advertising its use of Linux, the kernel, in Android. However, from what I have read, Android is not a GNU variant. The SDK also contains non-free software; Google also makes heavy use of the term “open source” and I believe this is an attempt to deceive in light of the presence of non-free software in the SDK.

Note these section of the EULA for the Android SDK:

3.2 You agree that Google or third parties own all legal right, title and interest in and to the SDK, including any Intellectual Property Rights that subsist in the SDK. “Intellectual Property Rights” means any and all rights under patent law, copyright law, trade secret law, trademark law, and any and all other proprietary rights. Google reserves all rights not expressly granted to you.

3.3 Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not copy (except for backup purposes), modify, adapt, redistribute, decompile, reverse engineer, disassemble, or create derivative works of the SDK or any part of the SDK. Except to the extent required by applicable third party licenses, you may not load any part of the SDK onto a mobile handset or any other hardware device except a personal computer, combine any part of the SDK with other software, or distribute any software or device incorporating a part of the SDK.

This looks an awful lot like it came straight out of a Microsoft or Apple EULA to me with merely a search-and-replace in the first line.

The potential for confusion surrounding Google’s use of the term “Linux” here is is a great example of the dangers of incorrectly using “Linux” to refer to the entire operating system instead of just the kernel. It is also a great example of why one must read carefully to ensure that a given software release is in fact free software lock, stock, and barrel and not to just treat “open source” as magic words. Given that Google packages non-free software with the SDK, I believe it best to treat the entire Android operating system as non-free.

The moral of the story? Don’t be fooled: on a broader scale, Android is just like the iPhone OS. If one uses an Android phone, one is trusting Google, a company that has had its share of criticism on more than one occasion.

“Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” –The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Phone camera bill: a symbol of law run amok

A recent Ars Technica article sheds light on a very dumb but well-intentioned bill before Congress, requiring mobile phone cameras to make an audible noise when taking a picture.

The good intentions are obvious (it’s an attempt to curb voyeurism). However, it’s the first step down a slippery slope towards requiring the same thing on every camera, long after technological advances have allowed the feature of silent cameras. (The shutter on my Nikon Coolpix L18 is barely audible from 5 feet away.) That can’t be good.

As bad as that may be, the implications for private investigators and law enforcement are particularly nasty. While an exception could be written into the bill, it makes much more sense to just not pass this bill in the first place.

It is also an attack on the freedom of programmers, who if I read this correctly, will face legal sanctions for disabling this “feature” of the new breed of photographic gadgets.

My favorite quote from the article:

As for politicians and parents who are worried about surreptitious cell phone camera users lurking around in dressing rooms and parks, they might want to, well, watch their children. Just a thought.