FSFE Newsletter – October 2014
Italian Court supports unbundling of software and hardware
When buying a laptop, it can be difficult to avoid paying for a Microsoft Windows licence since many laptops come bundled with one. This “Windows Tax” has artificially increased hardware prices for Free Software users who do not want to use Microsoft's operating system. We as Free Software users want to support the development of Free Software instead of non-free software like Microsoft Windows.
Since 2008 we maintain a wiki page with advice for consumers who want to avoid funding the development of non-free software, and for over a decade we talked with politicians and consumer protection organisations about this topic. Nonetheless, there is only slow progress on the subject, and it will take years to change this situation in Europe. For such long term goals, reaching intermediate goals is important. Last month we had such a victory.
Italy's High Court ruled that a laptop buyer was entitled to receive a refund for the price of the Microsoft Windows licence he was forced to purchase with his computer. The judges sharply criticised the practice of selling PCs only together with a non-free operating system as “a commercial policy of forced distribution”. The court considered this practice as “monopolistic in tendency”. It also highlighted that the practice of bundling means that end users are forced to use additional non-free applications due to compatibility and interoperability issues, whether they want these programs or not.
Now the Italian authorities have to turn this ruling into a real win for consumers, by ensuring that computer buyers can choose their device with any operating system they want, or none. Afterwards we hope that we can convince other countries in Europe to follow the example set by Italy, or that we find a European-wide solution to the problem.
European public administrations using Free Software
Often there is a tendency in the media and also from us to concentrate on the bad news about Free Software usage in the public administration. In this edition, we will concentrate on good examples from last month instead. So there is good news concerning Free Software office suites: Austria's Bundesrechenzentrum, the federal government-owned computing centre, praises the wide range of application uses of Apache OpenOffice. They appreciate that the “solution can be adapted to the data centre's needs, integrated in its specialist applications and also allows documents to be created and submitted automatically and semi-automatically. OpenOffice is the standard office suite at the computing centre since 2008, installed on 12000 PCs across the organisation.” Furthermore, the public administrations of the Italian cities Todi and Terni are switching to LibreOffice. They follow the example of the Italian province of Perugia, using LibreOffice on all of its 1200 PCs and the Perugia Local Health Authority, which installed the office suite on 600 PCs.
The French public administration is using a Free Software office suite on 500,000 desktops. Although they said switching to Free Software was hard, they were able to handle the problems. The project's success is partly due to two contracts the ministries have with ICT service providers. The contracts entail support for 260 Free Software applications, and the support team ensures that patches made for the ministries are contributed back to the software projects.
The Greens in Saxony/Germany urge the federal state government to do a feasibility study on migrating to Free Software. “The political group, free software users themselves since December 2011, say that lower IT costs and advantages in IT security should drive public administrations” to use Free Software. They argue that the dependency on proprietary software “gives large corporations access to and influence on official internal workflows, as well as sensitive communication and data of the state's citizens.”
Something completely different
- Even without the Windows tax mentioned above, you still have to find out if the computer you want to buy works with Free Software. To improve the information which hardware is compatible, the FSF and Debian now cooperate to expand and enhance the hardware database h-node to help users learn and share information about computers that work with Free Software operating systems.
- On our English public mailinglist a discussion about good metaphors for Free Software is currently taking place. Hugo Roy started the thread with some examples. Alessandro Rubini had some critical remarks, arguing against the metaphors mentioned. He argues that if we need a metaphor to explain Free Software to people, we need to remain in the field of information, of knowledge that can be spread at no cost. In a recent post Guido Arnold reported good experiences with using the recipe analogy with children.
- On this year's Software Freedom Day several local FSFE groups were involved: Edgar Hoffmann organised an info booth in front of the Offenburg town hall, and a mini-community-conference with talks and our Free Software quiz in the evening (in German, but with lots of pictures). Dominic Hopf, our Hamburg coordinator, gave a talk at SFD event in Kiel about F-Droid, while Torsten Grote introduced people to F-Droid at the Berlin SFD event. Also present at this event were Nermin Canik from Istanbul and your editor to talk with people about software freedom. Moreover, Michael Stehmann gave a talk about Free Software and privacy at the SFD event in Cologne (in German).
- From 13 to 15 October the FSFE will have a booth at Linuxcon in Düsseldorf. As many Free Software activists will already be around before, our Düsseldorf Fellowship group invites all Free Software supporters to brunch on 12 October 2014 starting from 11:00 am at bistro "Schwesterherz", Bilker Allee 66, 40219 Düsseldorf. Thus, a very active time for our local group there, after participating at a cryptoparty for the Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (in German) and organising a booth at Zackk street festival (in German).
- Guido Arnold summarised the outcome of FSFE's work shop in Essen, in which we discussed best practices for doing advocacy work on a local level.
- The Free Software developer Matthew Garret is “solidly convinced that Free Software that does nothing to respect or empower users is an absolute waste of time”. In his blog he argues that we need to design software from the ground up in such a way that those freedoms provide immediate and real benefits to our users. In his opinion, anything else is a failure.
- From the planet aggregation:
- Guido Arnold reports from the Teckids workshops at FrOSCon9. More than 60 children from 9 to 13 participated in three different workshops about robots, python games and Blender.
- Max Mehl explains how to use Openstreetmap as default in Thunderbird’s contacts and how to access ownCloud contacts' birthdays via CalDAV calendar.
- Henri Bergius reports from the status of the NoFlo development environment, a user interface for Flow-Based programming.
- There are some steps you can take in order to avoid having to deal with Microsoft Office files. However, in some cases you will be forced to deal with them. Kevin Keijzer documented how to make the best out of Microsoft Office files as Free Software user.
- Our current intern Michele Marrali wrote a blog post on how patents, copyright and trademarks can be used to promote freedom in Hardware projects.
Get active: Give feedback about the User Data Manifesto
Version 2 of the User Data Manifesto has been released. The aim of this manifesto is to define the fundamental rights for users on their own data in the Internet age: to control access to their data (and metadata), to know how and where the data is stored and to be free to choose a platform. Some projects are already working towards supporting the manifesto to give their users these rights! At the moment, version 2 is published as a draft on a wiki allowing public comments.
We ask all Free Software supporters to give feedback on the manifesto, so it can be further improved upon, and we can decide whether we want to support it as FSFE. Please give feedback yourself, discuss the manifesto on our discussion lists, and ask other Free Software organisations for feedback and if they would support it in this form, too.