FSFLA's GNUsletter
Issue #25
September, 2007

1. Editorial: Sovereignty requires Freedom
2. stdlib: Office Document Format Wars
3. News and Events
4. Help wanted

1. Editorial: Sovereignty requires Freedom

A sovereign state is one that administers its own government, and is not dependent upon, or subject to, another power. A democratic government is supposed to represent its citizens, pursuing and defending their interests. But how could it do so once its sovereignty is constrained by decisions to surrender the freedom of citizens and of the state itself?

When a government uses non-Free Software for the computations of any government activity, it gives the program's developer uncheckable power over that government activity. It is improper for the government to place such helpless trust in anyone. Forbidden from seeing the source code, the government cannot assess whether the software does what it claims to do, no more and no less. Forbidden from making changes to the software, the government depends exclusively on the software vendor for any needed modifications. Forbidden from sharing the software with its citizens, it fails the mandate of transparency needed for a democratic society.

Unable to decode the information stored in proprietary formats, the government leaves its data, as well as citizens' data it keeps, at the mercy of the vendor that invented the format and uses it to maintain and, sometimes, extend the monopoly created by the choice of the non-Free Software. This exclusive dependency very often translates into licensing fees for unnecessary upgrades that trigger further expenses, taking away from the public administration money that could otherwise be used for the original purpose of pursuing and defending the interests of citizens. Furthermore, one such exclusive dependency is often used by monopolists to create other exclusive dependencies, completing a vicious cycle that further extends their power over their victims, as well as the problems that come with this power.

Choosing Free Software, a government is legally entitled and technically unhampered to verify that the software is not programmed to betray it; to fix the software regardless of the vendor's interests, in case errors, problems or new needs arise; to hire its own citizens or companies to perform such services, advancing local economy and technology rather than merely sending royalty fees abroad; to switch from one service provider to another, furthering a free market without concerns about software migration costs, how long a particular version is still going to be available or how long the vendor is going to stay in business.

Choosing software that implements Free Open Standards, the government can be reassured that the information it maintains can always be decoded, even if just to convert it to a different format decades later. And if it's Free Software, it may not even have to develop from scratch the software needed to decode or convert the files decades later, because only Free Software can be modified to perform this task, or even to run on the newer computers available then.

Even more serious than giving up the public administration's freedom is imposing such decisions upon citizens. A government that requires citizens to accept non-Free Software licenses in order to comply with their law-imposed obligations, or to receive government information or services that ought to be offered to all of them, discriminates against those who stand for a free market, for economic and technological development and independence and, above all, for individual freedom.

Even worse is to induce unaware citizens to use non-Free Software. Education, training and digital inclusion efforts must all use Free Software in order to accomplish their goals. It doesn't make sense to induce children, youngsters or digitally-deprived adults to use software that artificially limits how much they can learn. Software that they can't legally take from school to their homes or jobs. Software that undermines the moral value of sharing, one of the most fundamental values of our society. Software that renders them dependent and helpless, the precise opposite of honest education, training and digital inclusion initiatives.

It is no wonder that non-Free Software vendors so often offer incentives for decision makers to make choices that lead to an increased dependency on such vendors, such as adopting their proprietary file formats and their non-Free Software that implements them. Non-Free Software and proprietary standards leave the user at the mercy of the software developers. Being subjugated by a software vendor renders a state dependent on and subject to another power. The freedom afforded through Free Software and Free Open Standards is essential for a state's sovereignty.

Enlightened public administrators must use Free Software for every one of their software needs, not only out of respect for citizens' freedom, but also to ensure their states remain sovereign, such that they can keep on pursuing citizens' best long-term interests. Conscious citizens ought to not only oppose government moves towards non-Free Software and proprietary standards, but also choose Free Software and Free Open Standards themselves.

Please help us raise citizen awareness and enlighten public administrators.

2. stdlib: Office Document Formats Wars

Although the Open Document Format is ISO standard 26300, a Free Open Standard, Microsoft keeps pushing for the standardization of its Office Open XML, ISO draft 29500. In contrast with the earlier unanimous approval of ODF, on Sept 2 OOXML failed both criteria for approval in ISO's fast track procedure: it was rejected by more countries than permitted, and it was approved by fewer JTC1-participant countries than required.

It was a close call on both but, all things considered, this was a major accomplishment for our community: Microsoft's publicly-admitted vote-purchasing and ballot-stuffing offers; the outrageous last-minute upgrade of several countries that voted for Microsoft to a "participant" status; the misinformation spread by Microsoft employees who managed to become heads of the study groups in the standardization bodies of most countries, and then misguided many such countries to submit approval votes that, per ISO's rules, ought to have been submitted as rejections; misinformation as to Microsoft's willingness to participate in the development of the Open Document Format; misinformation as to the purpose of the proposed standard, defended as something that would enable legacy documents to be decoded, but that misses all the information needed for such decoding.

Also, misinformation that limited FSFLA's participation in the process. We've been misguided into believing that Brazil was the only Latin-American country that could vote in the process, so we focused our efforts in this country. When we learned this was wrong, it was far too late. We apologize to the Free Software communities all over Latin America for not having provided our support.

Fortunately, our absence in these efforts was more than made up for by activists all over the world, Latin America included, and we'd like to recognize the efforts of every one of them who fought for this good cause. In spite of all their dedication, many were overpowered by Microsoft's accomplice networks. Fortunately, a few managed to obtain OOXML rejection votes, and these have been enough so far. We wish to highlight FFII's Alberto Barrionuevo's activism and coordination in our region, ODF Alliance's Jomar Silva in Brazil, and the work of our sister FSFs.

We thank all of them for the efforts to avoid the approval of a standard that would inconvenience every user, out of the need for keeping software compatible with both standards in order to exchange files with others, that would only benefit Microsoft, by encouraging the further adoption of its newly-proposed format. A competing standard will benefit no one else, especially a standard that only its proponent company can implement, because of technical incompleteness in the specification and juridic insecurity as to the optional and unspecified portions of the standard.

We have no doubt that, until February, Microsoft will be pushing hard to get more countries to support its format at the ISO Ballot Resolution Meeting, where the raised objections are supposed to be addressed. By then, each country will be invited to issue a new vote. We have to do our part and reach to standardization bodies of our countries and make sure the rejection votes remain so, that countries that didn't voice their opinion or that were misguided fix their votes to a rejection, and that manipulation of standardization bodies don't turn the serious ISO process into a sham.

Please join us at stdlib@fsfla.org, and help us collect information about standardization bodies in Latin America and how to help them keep honest.

3. News and Events

Pedro Rezende attended the ABNT meeting on OOXML standardization on August 22, in Rio de Janeiro. FSFLA thanks Rede Livre and 4[GNU/]Linux for enabling his participation.

Richard Stallman, from our American sister organization, was in Venezuela in mid/late July, and in Peru in August.

Georg Greve and Jonas Öberg, from our European sister organization; G. Nagarjuna, from our Indian sister organization; and Alexandre Oliva spoke at 7mas Jornadas Regionales de Software Libre. We thank Marcelo Zunino, Alfredo Rezinowski, Beraldo Leal, Gustavo Nunes Freire Ribeiro and G. Nagarjuna for helping us at the booth; the conference organizers for the booth; Red Hat Latin America for sponsoring Alexandre's attendance; and all the donors, who contributed more than 2000 pesos.

After Jornadas Regionales, Georg Greve, from FSFE, went on to Chile, where he offered speeches and met government officials.
http://www.gnuchile.cl/index.php?id_page=6&funcpage=shownew&idnew=237 (in Spanish)

The Brazilian [GNU/]LinuxMagazine published Alexandre Oliva's article "Novidades na GPLv3".
http://www.linuxnewmedia.com.br/images/uploads/pdf_aberto/LM33_GPLv3.pdf (in Portuguese)

Blue-GNU interviewed FSFLA, and published other news about our ongoing struggles for Free Open Standards for Office Documents and Free Software adoption in the government and in education.

During the month of August, Octavio Ruiz Cervera and Roberto Salomon accepted our invitations to join the team as board observers. FSFLA welcomes them and thanks them for their support.

Oscar Valenzuela has kindly accepted our invitation to become a member of the FSFLA board, further strenghtening his commitment and ongoing participation, formerly as board observer, in our organization. Welcome aboard, Oscar!

Diário do Nordeste published an interview with Alexandre Oliva on Free Software and Free Open Standards.
http://diariodonordeste.globo.com/materia.asp?codigo=468673 (in Portuguese)

Richard Stallman, from the original FSF, was interviewed by Computerworld Brazil.

For the past several years, Software Freedom Day has been celebrated worldwide in September. Many Latin American sites are organizing meetings on September 15. Check the web site an join the celebration! We highlight below a few sites that requested us to do so.
http://www.espiritolivre.org/dls2007 (in Portuguese)
http://www.softwarelivrevs.org/ (in Portuguese)
http://softwarefreedomday.org/teams/centralandsouthamerica/chile (in Spanish)

Alexandre Oliva is going to speak at the Free Software Forum in Rio de Janeiro on Oct 4; at Convención Visión 2007 in Lima, Peru, on Oct 17-20; at Latinoware in Foz do Iguaçu, Brasil, on Nov 13-14; and at the Free Software International Congress in Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Nov 20-23.
http://www.forumsoftwarelivre.org.br/ (in Portuguese)
http://www.usmp.edu.pe/convencion2007/ (in Spanish)
http://www.latinoware.org/ (in Portuguese)
http://linux.es/archives/90 (in Spanish)

Fernanda G. Weiden is going to speak at the 4th International Congress on Computing Engineering, in Ixtlahuaca, Mexico, on Oct 16-19.
http://www.ceui.com.mx/archivo_news/llll_congreso_internacional_ingenieria.htm (in Spanish)

Richard Stallman is going to speak in Colombia and Costa Rica in mid-October, and in Brazil and Ecuador in November. Find out more at his events web site.

Less than two months after the release of the GNU GPLv3 on June 29, our American sister organization, the Free Software Foundation, published on August 14 the last-call draft for the GNU Affero GPL version 3. It is a slightly modified version of GPLv3, mutually compatible with it, that defends the freedoms of remote users of the software. Please read the draft and submit your comments at the web site.

Since 2003, Cetril has rewarded innovative Free Software developers. In spite of being open to worldwide participation, earlier editions have had very few Latin American submissions. We encourage Free Software developers in Latin America to submit their projects that qualify. More details are available at the web site.

4. Help wanted

The Chilean Ministry of Economy signed a very broad pact with Microsoft, that will severely impact Chile's sovereignty and their citizens' freedom. Please support and join the movement to oppose this move.
http://www.liberaciondigital.org/ (in Spanish)

The Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Employment signed a pact with Microsoft to train youngsters in the use of Microsoft non-Free Software. Please help us oppose this pact.

Free Software supporters in Brazil, including FSFLA, have managed to postpone a public tender for purchasing of R$ 40 million (US$ 20 million) in Microsoft Office 2007 licenses. Please help us get it canceled.

Please help us verify the translations of GPLv3, of Richard Stallman's essay on reasons to switch to it, and of LGPLv3.

FSFLA depends on voluntary work from Free Software enthusiasts. If you can and want to help, please join our workgroups. If you'd prefer to work on another project, please bring it up at discusion@fsfla.org.

Copyright 2007 FSFLA

Thanks to Dario Soto for part of the translation.

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