Milan Zamazal's Weblog RSS feed

Starting another week
15th September 2014

Real life makes a lot of things hard to achieve and I feel quite exhausted after last weeks. But there were also many good news last week: Someone finally escaped the danger of death and is back at home with good chances for complete recovery. My soul got another pardon. I should get the required signatures for my new Debian key. IceCat got a new maintainer and may become properly maintained. One of the Firefox security plugins finally started working for me. I got a bunch of interesting software tips. I've found a way to replace some proprietary software devices with free software ones at my home. Some important work got done in time.

I'm sure the following days won't be easy and the bad part of the world will continue to undermine useful activities. But listening to good news can help us proving that life is still maintainable and there is even some progress.

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Tags: other.
10 years of OpenStreetMap
1st September 2014

OpenStreetMap celebrated its 10th birthday last month. It's a great project with great achievements, like Wikimedia projects. It's another success of user collaboration and freedom.

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Tags: computers, freesoft.
Debian GNU/Linux on Android
20th August 2014

Android tablets are useful portable devices. Unfortunately Android makes them less useful than they could be. There are several problems with Android, one of them being lack of applications. While there are free Android applications for many common tasks, they are typically not suitable for serious work and many applications are completely missing, most notably (real) Emacs.

But it's possible to partially overcome the problem by installing GNU/Linux in a chroot environment on Android, making an Android tablet a poor man's substitute for a laptop on occasional traveling. Here's what I've found about running Debian GNU/Linux on Android after some experiments and testing a couple of alternatives:

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Tags: computers, freesoft.
Liberating your Android device
5th July 2014

Some interesting starting points:

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Tags: freesoft.
Installing an alternative ROM on Google Nexus 10
30th June 2014

Enough is enough. I don't like how the stock Android installation treats its users and I finally decided to replace it on my Google Nexus 10 with something else. The reasonable choices were CyanogenMod, AOKP and OmniROM. I decided to install AOKP.

Installation instructions looked like installing an alternative ROM on Nexus is a completely easy (and safe) process. It wasn't that easy though, there is some missing and misleading information in those installation instructions. Due to it, I got a bit scared about three times during the process and had to search the Web for solutions. Thanks to all those kind people who post instructions, answers and solutions I was able to complete the installation successfully. So here is another short guide summarizing how to install an alternative ROM on current (4.4) stock Nexus 10, based on my own experience:

Many thanks to all those who develop alternative Android installations with improved user freedom!

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Tags: computers, freesoft.
Really afraid of Mozilla
19th May 2014

A week after the International Day Against DRM, Mozilla has announced that it accepts the W3C DRM proposal and will actively support DRM on the Web. So we've lost another battle against DRM. All major Web browsers now officially accept DRM on the Web.

I find the following Mozilla explanation scary: "Every other major browser vendor has already implemented EME, and as it becomes the norm, we want to avoid the possibility that people will be unable to access key Internet content such as streaming Hollywood movies via Firefox. We also do not want to create a situation where Firefox users must use other browsers for key Internet activities."

I don't consider Hollywood movies being "key Internet content" and I don't want to access any DRM content in Firefox. Whenever I need to use DRM or a similar broken system, I do so on platforms where privacy and security are already compromised (such as Google Android or proprietary operating systems).

So what's the problem when using DRM in Firefox is going to be voluntary? For first, Hollywood demanded to put control on the users and the W3C and all the creators of major Web browsers have accepted that. For second, Mozilla has recently demonstrated several times that freedom is not very high among its priorities: It promotes non-free add-ons (without informing users about their licenses on mobile platforms), it failed to resist the outrage of political lobbyists and now it supports DRM. We all know the situations when we have to make hard choices and make decisions we are not proud of, because of our cowardice, lack of alternative choices or because we think we do the least evil. It's a dangerous game we don't want to play but we can't avoid it. And it can lead us to crossing all limits.

When Mozilla says that "every other major browser has already done that and it becomes the norm" I'm alerted. The fact is that every other major browser is designed to serve interests of its creator and not the interests of the users. This is the primary reason I use Firefox and not another major browser. But when Mozilla conforms to what other major browsers do and what is "the norm" then what's the difference? I have to ask some serious questions such as whether Mozilla will sell users' data or whether it will close some parts of its source code or will switch to a hostile license when that looks like an effective way to fulfill "interests of Firefox users" and to save the market share. My answer is such things may happen. So I can't trust Mozilla anymore. (As a precaution I disabled sending Firefox reports to Mozilla from my mobile devices and of course I use my own Firefox sync server instead of the one provided by Mozilla.)

Retracting from certain principles typically doesn't bring the expected good. When my country was sacrificed to Hitler, it was applauded as saving the world peace. The next year World War II has started. When Netscape offered its proprietary Web browser as free meal, users have accepted it instead of making a free Web browser. Some years later Netscape has lost the war of browsers and turning to the Mozilla project has saved us from the worst in the last minute. The years of Netscape dominance had nevertheless made serious damages to free software which I hoped were recently finally recovered. But I was mistaken, we actually tightly depend on a single free software product apparently ready to sacrifice the principles of freedom just to conform to "the norms" and retain some users. Maybe Mozilla changes its attitude and instead of making definite steps against user freedom and vague claims about supporting it it will act in the opposite way. But maybe things get worse and we must be prepared for that. It's time to start preparing for the worst, i.e. loosing the last free major Web browser.

We need a major free Web browser, sufficiently separated from direct commercial interests and with high respect to users' freedom and privacy. We should start with properly maintaining a freedom aware branch of Firefox (perhaps the GNU IceCat project, the GNU version of Firefox, might be a good start). In case more bad things happen with Mozilla we should be ready to start a complete Firefox fork. Otherwise we may end up with a completely proprietary Web.

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Tags: freesoft.
Evangelii Gaudium
14th May 2014

I managed to read apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis. Very interesting and useful reading.

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Tags: other.
International Day Against DRM
6th May 2014

Today is the eighth International Day Against DRM. I consider DRM unethical, dangerous, threatening our freedom and serving no useful purpose. A lot could be said on the topic, but I'll try to give just an illustrative example instead.

When I looked for works of George Orwell in Czech e-shops I found that they were mostly out of print. They were also unavailable as e-books — except for his two most important works, which were (and still are) only available with DRM. That means reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm requires installing a secret software on your approved and supervised reader, you are not allowed to read the book without special permission and you may be reported every time you open it. And we all remember the infamous Amazon incident, don't we? That all happens for "protection" of whoever, but certainly not the more than half a century dead author. Truly Orwellian.

What can we do? Above all, please don't ignore the problem nor accept the DRM game passively. Tell about the problems of DRM to your friends. Raise your voice against accepting DRM as an official W3C standard. We must fight for freedom otherwise we lose it. There is still hope: This year, it's possible to buy the first Czech e-book of George Orwell's writings that may be read without supervision, on non-approved readers and without spyware installed on them. An interesting book, looking forward it!

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Tags: other.
10 years in the European Union
1st May 2014

My country, Czech Republic, has joined the European Union 10 years ago. It was great event and it's clear that the EU has been helping us a lot to return from the Soviet empire to civilized world.

What did we give to the EU? I'm not sure. Our government has made some serious troubles but hopefully there have been also positive things. In any case, I believe it was worth to invest in our participation, it's better to have good neighbors than bad ones. (Can our prime minister, telling us that we can't support freedom due to economic reasons, figure out that someday?)

While some people have been dying to enter the EU, as immigrants or as citizens of a maybe future member country, other people inside the EU fight against the Union. Of course, there are many problems and bad things happen. But European unification is not the ground cause of that (think what are the actual problems and how the matters would evolve without the EU). I believe the EU project is primarily a great opportunity of world wide importance, which we can either make the best of or waste.

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Afraid of Mozilla
5th April 2014

So Brendan Eich has resigned and has left Mozilla. It was apparently the only reasonable option he had which is a very bad news. (If you don't know what it is about, look for Brendan Eich Mozilla CEO in your favorite search engine.)

The hatred and bigotry demonstrated in this case is scaring. AFAIK Brendan Eich did nothing wrong and didn't discriminate anybody. He is just incompatible with certain ideology. I don't know whether people from Mozilla have joined the attacks or not but Mozilla as a whole has definitely failed to resist the pressure. As a citizen of a country which was under single ideology a few decades ago and anybody incompatible with it was a public enemy I'm especially sensitive to such dealing with people. It's really scaring.

While I don't think there is something like same-sex marriage I can understand that some people think otherwise and we can explain our views and arguments to each other and discuss how our society should be organized. There may be bigots on both sides but I believe most people can behave reasonably. I can't see what such views have to do with the role of Mozilla CEO.

Dear Mozilla, I little care about whether your CEO is for or against same-sex marriage. I'm much more concerned about other facts. You make the only and last big free Web browser which is a very important mission. I'm disgusted that political screening is part of the process. But not only that. I'm also very disappointed that the mobile version of Firefox doesn't display licensing information about the browser extensions and about the applications at the Firefox market. You mix free and non-free software without helping the users to distinguish. I'm not sure you do enough against making DRM part of official Web standards. I'm afraid you divert from open Web and freedom and you may, directly or indirectly, help the movements opposing them. Then we may lose even the last free Web browser.

The resignation of Brendan Eich was a failure of our society and of the Mozilla project and perhaps a loss for both. Yes, we must do better.

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Tags: freesoft, other.

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