Saturday the 31st of March – I choose to spend the majority of a beautiful spring day in Copenhagen – indoors – attending the Free Software Event at the DTU (The Technical University of Copenhagen).
It was a great event.
I especially enjoyed the two, hands-on sessions, about the FreeNAS open source NAS (Network Attached Storage) software, and the ThinStation thin client (mostly) open source software.
FreeNAS looked like great and simple software, a LinuxFreeBSD kernel, all the protocols and a web-server running PHP all with a footprint of 32MB. Interesstingly FreeNAS supports Apple File Protocol (AFP), could be a cheap alternative to a Mac OS X Server based file server, one problem with AFP is that Mac OS X client only supports a maximum of 10 AFP client connections.
I’m really tempted to start using ThinStation at work, but I also have to start watching the Ndiyo! project again, interestingly the speaker wasn’t familiar with that project, but he said that he’d check it out – “maybe we can get some good ideas” – that’s the spirit of open source!
Last, but not least, the event was graced with “royalty” in the form of a keynote by the “King” Richard Stallman himself. He was talking about “The dangers of software patents”, and he delivered his points with razor sharp precision, without a manuscript!
The historical account about how software patents came about in the US was interesting, it turns out that it was caused by a patent issued for a process for curing of rubber. As part of the the process, a software program is controlling the curing of the rubber, and a patent was issued for the software. The legality of software patent was later established by a supreme court ruling.
The problem with the patents is that it’s kind of an arms race, and a disaster waiting to happen – using a flute as a gun to illustrate what could happen if you got sued over patent infringement. A major problem with software patents is that they’re very vague, and often are kept in the lower drawer by the patent holders, just to be dug out when the industry has invested heavily in the technology, like the case of the LZW compression that turn out to be patented, and this was a major problem because it’s used in the GIF bitmap graphic format – the de-facto standard for web-based bitmap graphics until the emergence of PNG (Png is Not Gif – LOL! I thought PNG was a TLA for Portable Network Graphics)!
Mr. Stallman has himself been involved in software patent cases, for instance it turned out that EMACS had pioneered a concept for “customisable shortcuts that could be automatically expanded”, e.g. “macros”, that Xywrite (a popular word-processor in the 80’ies) was being sued for patent infringement over. Because EMACS had existed for many years before the patent was issued, Xywrite was acquitted, but they had to issue a software downgrade(!) while the lawsuit was being processed.
Mr. Stallman voiced strong concern about the threats against democracy from big business. Big business has bullied European administrations, for instance the Danish (Microsoft said they would move Navision from Denmark) and the Polish administration into submission, if they didn’t support software patents. Mr. Stallman also believes that the WTO is one of the major threats to democracy.
Mr. Stallman is quite the character…He’s obviously most comfortable without his shoes on! At the end of the keynote he discovered some money in his shoes on the floor: “Strange: I didn’t put it there – I suppose it’s for the FSF!”, and he put the money in his bag – I’m sure they will be put in the FSF “piggy-bank”. Priceless!