Archive for November, 2008

scratch and greenfoot licensing blues

November 30, 2008

UPDATE (March, 2009): Greenfoot and its cousin BlueJ are now Free software!

Bill Kerr has an interesting post regarding the unfortunate status of Scratch licensing. Bill has reiterated his and others’ comments which get right to the heart of the matter. Worry over forking can be put to rest with licensing requiring derivative works to be clearly marked out so that they don’t infringe on an original work’s trademark.

This is an interesting example I hope the developers of Greenfoot consider closely. Not too long ago, I asked them why they restrict commercial use and “disassembly” of Greenfoot. Here are key excerpts from an email (June 2008) explaining their thoughts:

The [software] is closed because we want to avoid feature creep. […] The major strength of [the software] is its simplicity and careful selection and integration of features. […] We are providing a high level of user support. Our users are generally beginners. If the system were forked, we would have difficulty dealing with the forked version in a support context.

If the Greenfoot team wishes to avoid “feature creep” then they can simply refuse contributions to the official Greenfoot version. If the “major strength” of Greenfoot is simplicity and integration, then users will stick with the official Greenfoot release. If they don’t, giving students the freedom to go their own way with an unofficial release can’t cause harm. And finally, if Greenfoot is forked, the Greenfoot team can simply refuse to support the modified versions. When I sent this reply to a Greenfoot developer, it was met (like Bill’s experience with Scratch) with silence. Silence isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it may mean they’re contemplating alternatives.

Scratch and Greenfoot are potentially valuable learning tools. Maybe the developers are now considering maximizing that potential through licensing that encourages tinkering, widespread distribution and protection for official versions. Here’s hoping.

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Green School and Free Software

November 18, 2008

Thanks to Kim Cofino I learned of Green School in Bali, Indonesia. Kim linked to their enlightening slideshow describing alternative sources of energy, the use of bamboo and volcanic rock to build essential structures, their organic permaculture system, the extraction of methane from cow manure for fuel, and other fascinating endeavors.

As an IT teacher and free software in education advocate, I was curious to know what kind of software systems they use and sent an email of inquiry. The pessimist in me assumed they would not have considered (or known) to connect their choice of software to their mission and philosophy. I was fully prepared to suggest a GNU/Linux alternative to their Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS so imagine the smile on my face when I received the following reply:

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your email. At Green School we do advocate free and open-source software. Students use Ubuntu/Edubuntu 8.10 for their computer OS. They are being introduced to HTML and CSS for web programming using simple text editor. We are also using Alice Programming language of Carnegie Mellon as an introductory course to the basic of computer programming.

Best Regards,
Yongki C. Andyka Jong
IT and Technology
Green School

What haven’t they thought of?

dream machine

November 8, 2008

I want something like a coreboot ILG laptop with a wireless chipset by Atheros. Partition that with gNS and Ubuntu and my needs are met. Did I miss anything?

a (cynical?) perspective on this historic US presidential election

November 6, 2008

While some may label this as cynicism, my joy over the election results comes not from an Obama/Biden win as much as a McCain/Palin loss. What I do hope for, is that eight years from now I’ll be celebrating the win.