FSFE Newsletter - June 2010
May was quite busy, for the first time we participated in a big church event to inform visitors about Free Software. We analysed the European Commission's Digital Agenda, and there was news about free video formats.
But why are we working on all those things? Because it is important for society. Today software is everywhere, in our desktops, laptops, and mobile phones as well as in cars, trains, TVs, fridges - any complex device you care to name. Software is not just a tool like a car; it is everywhere and will become even more important in future.
Control over software means power. Whoever controls the software decides what you can and what you cannot do with it. In democracies we separate and distribute power amongst a lot of different people. The control of software as such a powerful tool of our society has to be distributed as well. If more and more parts of our life are controlled by software, the software needs to be Free Software.
This month we received the Theodor Heuss medal for exactly this work for society. The Theodor Heuss Foundation which awarded the medal is a non-partisan foundation which carries the name of Germany's first president. The foundation seeks "to bring attention to something, which has to be done and shaped in our democracy, without being finished" (Carl Friedrich v. Weizsäcker, 1965). The Theodor Heuss prize is given annually to persons of high standing and organisations which are groundbreaking in this respect.
This award gives Free Software supporters recognition outside the usual software scene. It shows that a well-known political foundation agrees that Free Software is good for our society and that FSFE is doing a good job. This is a door-opener to reach a broader audience in feature, especially politicians. At the ceremony and the day before at the workshop Bernhard Reiter, Björn Schießle, Georg Greve, Karsten Gerloff, other Fellows and I myself had good discussions with a lot of political interested persons with different backgrounds (see   ).
Enlarging the audience Speaking about a broader audience, for the first first time we participated at the ecumenical church day in Munich, Germany. While we have given talks at church events before to explain the values of Free Software, it was the completely new experience for us to participate in an event of this size, with 130,000 visitors. Thomas Jensch organised a shared booth with KDE e.V. to explain the participants why they as Christians should care about Free Software (see ).
Open Standards and politics Open Standards are important to ease the migration path to Free Software. This month the European Commission published the Digital Agenda. It is good that the Commission plans to give standards a greater role in the public procurement of software, and to get dominant software vendors to license their interoperability information, opening up the software market for Free Software vendors. However the EC avoids all references to Open Standards as well as Free Software, although the Member States set those goals for the Commission in the Granada and Malmö declarations. Instead, the Commission points to the European Interoperability Framework. This is a document which is currently being systematically hollowed out, as shown by FSFE's analysis . We outlined that the EC needs to adopt a strict definition of Open Standards, along the lines of the first European Interoperability Framework (EIF), and that the Commission needs to focus on Open Standards for its public sector IT strategy to enable the full potential of Free Software for European innovation (see ).
Free Video Formats Good news about open video formats. In March both our sister organisation the FSF and our associated organisation FFII asked Google to free the video codec vp8 and use it on YouTube. This month Google announced they will do so. From now on users will be able use Free Software to play and encode the new WebM format. "WebM is based on the Matroska container format -- replacing Ogg -- and the VP8 video codec which replaces Theora. Crucially, the Vorbis audio codec is part of the new WebM specification." (see  and ).
The other good news, since a few days the German ARD news program tagessschau is available in Ogg Theora. After the public radio station Dradio is broadcasting its program in OGG vorbis you can now watch the tagesschau with Free Software  and do not have to install proprietary software like the Adobe's flash player (see ).
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Matthias Kirschner- FSFE