Posts tagged free software

France – the state of open source

CNLL logo

In France the Conseil National des logiciel libres (CNLL – National Free Software Council) has just published its 2020/2021 survey (PDF) into free and open source software in France.

The report’s findings can be summarised as follows.

Free and open source companies are typically micro-businesses (59%) and SMEs (35.1%). They are generally well established youngish businesses with an average age of 11.5 years. They have a very varied customer base in all sectors and exports account for over 20% of their turnover, as opposed to 16.7% in the digital sector.

Besides service activities, there has been a move from solutions-based financial models (invoicing for use, sale of licences) whereas 57.1% are software producers, playing a vital ecosystem role.

During the Covid crisis, the majority (64.6%) of companies reported stable or increasing activities, with 82.8% of managers saying they were confident about the future of their companies and 61.1% seeking to recruit staff. However, 53.7% are worried about the French economy over the long term, particularly as regards the durability of B2B customers.

Although it has been recommended by the Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security (SGDSN) to reassert digital sovereignty, only 29.3% of respondents think that France is implementing an open source industrial strategy to counter the Big Tech companies and 64.6% of them believe the powers that be are not giving sufficient encouragement to open source as provided for by law, particularly in respect of public sector procurement.

Plus de 80% des entreprises sont déjà engagées dans une démarche éthique libre et responsable vis-à-vis de critères spécifiques : la moitié d’entre elles a déjà formalisé de tels engagements et l’autre se déclare prête à le faire.

Businesses are very involved in the ecosystem and contribute to more than 35 organisations. Furthermore, 9.7% report that their region has an open source-based digital strategy which has tangible results, albeit with marked regional disparties.

Printed manuals available for LibreOffice 7

The Document Foundation (TDF) blog reports today that users of the TDF’s free and open source LibreOffice suite can now acquire hard copies of guides to the various modules in version 7.* of the suite (Writer, Calc, Impress, Math and Base) as well as a general Getting Started Guide.

These new guides are full of tips, tricks and tutorials to help users get the best out of the whole office suite.

Cover image of LibreOffice Getting Started Guide

The guides are already available for download in both PDF and ODT versions.

There will nevertheless always be people who appreciate hard copies of manuals, so the LibreOffice Documentation community has joined forces with online bookshop Lulu (which was started by Red Hat co-founder Bob Young) made these available guides. The guides will be printed on demand in various locations and be shipped to anywhere in the world.

Pricing for the UK is shown as £10 per guide. Lulu also provide guides for earlier versions of LibreOffice.

LibreOffice 7.1 Calc Guide available

The Document Foundation (TDF), the organisation behind the free and open source cross-platform LibreOffice suite, announced on its blog on Friday that a new guide for the suite’s Calc spreadsheet module had been released. Version 7.1 of LibreOffice was released in February this year.

Cover of lastest Calc guide

The guide has been produced by members of the LibreOffice documentation community to take account of the improvements to Calc in the new release.

The Guide includes the volunteer effort of many members of the documentation community – Rafael Lima from Brazil, Martin Van Zijl and Kees Kriek from the Netherlands and Celia Palacios from the Spanish language community. Yusuf Keten from the Google Summer of Code program merits a special mention for work new extensions and template dialogs, as does Steve Fanning for his editorial review and to Jean Hollis Weber for her work on improving and organising the text. Work on the new guide was co-ordinated by Felipe Viggiano from Brazil.

The 545-page guide is available as a PDF and covers all of Calc’s basic and advanced features, making it a must-read for getting the most out of Calc.

LibreOffice 7.0.6 released

The Document Foundation (TDF), the German non-profit organisation behind the free and open source LibreOffice productivity suite, has today announced the release of LibreOffice 7.0.6, the slightly less bleeding edge version of the suite intended for enterprise deployments and more conservative users.

LibreOffice 7.0.6 is the sixth minor release of the LibreOffice 7.0 family and is available for immediate download.

According to the LibreOffice Twitter account, this new release contains over 50 bug fixes. TDF also states this will be the final release of the 7.0 branch, with development efforts being concentrated henceforth on maintaining the 7.1 branch and working towards readying LibreOffice 7.2 for release.

LibreOffice 7.0 bannerFor commerical deployments, TDF strongly recommends seeking support from its partners so as to obtain long-term supported releases, dedicated assistance, custom new features and other benefits such as SLAs.

Anyone who’s willing to contribute their time and professional skills to LibreOffice is advised to visit the dedicated supporters’ website.

Finally, all LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members are invited to make a donation to support The Document Foundation.

Germany – one place for public code

German IT news website heise reports that software developed with taxpayers’ money should be made freely available by public sector organisations to enable its further development. Together with the states of North Rhine-Westhalia and Baden-Württemberg, the German Federal Interior Ministry wants to establish an open source platform for the public sector. It should make it easier for the Federal government, regional governments and local authorities to reuse open source software and jointly continue its development.

The overriding aim is digital sovereignty, i.e. minimising the current dependency on predominantly US hardware and software manufacturers. The repository should also be a documentation platform and include a user manual. Further important aspects in this case involve legal certainty, comprehensible rules for use, a general explanation of open source and bringing the community together.

Screenshot of Python code

Home for free code

A group of experts made up of members of the Open Source Business Alliance (OSBA), the Bundes-Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Kommunalen IT-Dienstleister e.V (VITAKO) and several collaborators carried out the preliminary work in September 2020 and produced an initial plan for an open source code repository. The initiative is working under the slogan “One place for public code”.

At the same time, the IT Planning Council’s “Cloud Computing and Digital Sovereignty” working group of the IT Planning Council decided to pilot an open source code repository. The BMI, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg are currently testing the platform’s initial stage. According to the BMI, a minimum viable product with the central platform’s core functions was achieved at at the end of March. On the basis of this, tests are currently being carried out, whilst the project continues to be developed.

Numerous supporters

“One place for public code” is also associated with the initiative. Its supporters include local authority associations, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), The Document Foundation (TDF), Wikimedia Deutschland and many major city councils such as Munich and Frankfurt am Main.

Muse Group acquires Audacity

Audacity is a great free and open source audio editor, which is available for all major computing platforms – Linux, Mac and Windows. It’s one of the free and open source software packages I recommend in my list of free and open source software.

Audacity running on Linux, audio track and MIDI track playing

Audacity running on Linux, audio track and MIDI track playing

Today The Register reports that Audacity has been purchased by Muse Group, which has promised to keep the platform free and open source.

The deal was announced on 30th April by Martin Keary, who is Head Of Design at MuseScore, an open-source notation software package also owned by Muse Group, and who will now “manage Audacity in partnership with its open-source community”. The financial details of the deal have not been disclosed.

Audacity received a major update to version 3.0 in March, some 20 years since its first version 1.0 was released. Among the new release’s features were a new file format, analyser and a multitude of bug fixes.

In addition Keary announced that the project was seeking to recruit “a few key positions for senior developers or designers who have experience in audio or music tech.”

A video was also released to coincide with the announcement.

German federal elections 2021 – Demands for digitally sovereign society

FSFE logoGerman digital civil society organisations have made four demands for a digitally sovereign society to politicians standing in the 2021 federal election in late September 2021. Among them is the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), which works to ensure that software developed with public money shall be published under a free and open source software licence.

On 1st April 2020, German civil society organisations working for an independent digital infrastructure and free access to knowledge called on politicians to learn from the crisis and strengthen digital civil society.

In an open letter (German) of that date, the signatories (Chaos Computer Club, D64 – Zentrum für Digitalen Fortschritt, Epicenter.Works, the FSFE, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, Superrr Lab and Wikimedia Deutschland) also made clear recommendations for action. However, far too little has happened since then. The past year has made it clear that politics and the public sector are overwhelmed with their own digital transformation and are setting priorities in digital policy that do not meet the needs of society. We are far from a digitally sovereign society.That is why a broad spectrum of organisations, including the FSFE has once again come together to support politics with their expertise.

With four demands, the network shows how digitisation can succeed for a digitally sovereign society – and calls upon the parties to make digitisation for the common good a central topic in the forthcoming federal elections.

Reichstag and projected Give Free Software a chance message

Photo courtesy of FSFE

Four demands for the federal government
  • Digital Sovereignty: politicians must anchor the digital sovereignty of society as the highest maxim in digital policy. Instead of a digital ministry, we need a mission for the coming legislative period that elevates digital sovereignty to a guiding principle and is drafted and evaluated together with representatives from civil society, science and business.
  • Participation and Transparency: civil society must finally be afforded the same opportunities as business and science to contribute its expertise via a civil society quota in political advisory bodies, communication and transparency on procedures of political decision-making processes, legally defined deadlines for consultations and machine-readable documentation.
  • Public Money, Public Good: publicly funded solutions must be accessible to all under a free licence so that no knowledge is lost or problems are solved twice. It should be a legal requirement that software developed for the public sector with public money must be published under a free and open source software licence. If public money is involved, the code should also be public. In addition, public sector data must be open data.
  • Sustainable Digitisation: digitisation can only succeed if the development of digital infrastructure is economically and socially viable. To this end, diversity in digitisation and the development and maintenance of secure, decentralised digital infrastructure for society must be promoted in the long term.
5th May launch event

A new organisation and website – https://digitalezivilgesellschaft.org/ – has been established to promote the above demands and a launch event will be held on 5th May 2021 from 18:00 to 19:30 hrs to discuss these demands with a panel consisting of Julia Reda (former MEP), Henning Tillmann (software developer and co-chair of D64) and Julia Kloiber (co-founder Superrr Lab). The panel will be moderated by Katja Jäger (betterplace lab). Afterwards, all participants will have the opportunity to exchange ideas on solutions, measures and calls for action in four thematic rooms. FSFE’s Alexander Sander will moderate the room on “Public Money? Public Code!”.

Mozilla grants Pyodide project its independence

image of Python logoMozilla, the organisation behind the free and open source Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email client, has just released the Pyodide project from its organisation and it will henceforth be managed independently by the community, French IT news site Le Monde Informatique reports. Formed within Mozilla in 2018 as an experimental project to create in full Python stack for data science, the tool is compiled to WebAssembly and can be used to leverage Python in a web browser and give the language full access to web-based APIs. Via WebAssembly, Pyodide thus brings the Python 3.8 runtime to the browser, with its scientific stack including NumPy, Pandas, Matplotlib, SciPy and scikit-learn. Almost 75 packages are currently offered, with the tool providing transparent object conversion between JavaScript and Python.

The project currently has a separate GitHub organisation and documentation site. It will be maintained by volunteers. A governance document and roadmap have been published to set out Pyodide’s targets, including better Python code performance, reducing the size of downloads and simplifying package uploads. The roadmap introduction states:

This document lists general directions that core developers are interested to see developed in Pyodide. The fact that an item is listed here is in no way a promise that it will happen, as resources are limited. Rather, it is an indication that help is welcomed on this topic.

Pyodide can install any Python package in wheel format from the PyPi repository. It also includes an interface which exposes Python packages Python to JavaScript and exposes the browser interface (including the DOM) to Python. Developers can test Pyodide in an REPL environment.

Version 0.17.0 with API revision

Mozilla has at the same time announced the release of Pyodide version 0.17.0 with major maintenance improvements, a revision of the central APIs and the squashing of bugs and memory leaks. Since its creation the project has given rise to plenty of interest and is used in several projects outside Mozilla.

NASA’s next lunar rover to use free software

Being born in the mid-50s, some of my main childhood memories include the Cold War rivalry of the “Space Race” between the then USSR and the USA, all reinforced by such TV fare as Jerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Fireball XL5.

These have stayed with me throughout life and I still follow human achievements in space closely.

Coming hard on the heels of the Ubiquity helicopter’s first flight on Mars (posts passim), German IT news website heise reports that NASA’s next lunar rover will also be powered by free and open source software.

In 2023 NASA will launch its Viper (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) rover which will be searching for and mapping water ice (which could one day be used to make rocket fuel) on the Moon’s surface. The rover will be equipped with high-tech instruments and tools: wheels which can revolve well on the dusty lunar surface; a drill which can dig into the lunar soil and hardware which can survive the lunar night which lasts 14 days and during which temperatures can drop to -173 degrees Celsius.

Viper Lunar rover

Image courtesy of NASA

Whereas Viper’s equipment is largely bespoke, the rover will run mostly on open source software which can be freely used and adapted. If the mission is successful, it will not only lay the foundations for a future Moon colony, but also enable the aerospace industry to develop and operate its robots in a different manner.

Open source technology has been little thought of to date in respect of space missions. It costs vast sums to build something space-worthy which can find its way to a target hundreds of thousands of kilometres away and carry out its specific tasks there. The natural impulse is usually to conceal the necessary know-how. On the other hand, open source software is often associated with cobbled-together programming for small projects such as hackathons or student demonstrations. The programming code that fills online repositories like GitHub is often a cheap alternative for groups with little money and few resources.

Into space with open source

The aerospace industry is being propelled forward by many factors, not least the increasing drive into space. This also entails a demand for cheap and accessible technologies, including software. Even for major organisations like NASA, for whom funds are less of a problem, the open source approach can result in better software. With open source, scientists can access additional expertise and feedback from a wider community when problems arise, just as amateur developers do.

If open source software is good enough for the likes of NASA, it should probably also be good enough for everyone else trying to control a robot remotely from Earth. As ever more new companies and new national agencies throughout the world are trying to send their own hardware into space and at the same time keep costs down, cheaper robotics software able to cope with risky missions could be a major benefit.

2 Robonauts robotsNASA has already been using open source software for 10-15 years in several research and development projects. It manages a very comprehensive range of open source program code. However, its use for space robots is still in the initial stages. One of the systems the agency has tested is the Robot Operating System (ROS), a collection of open source software frameworks which is maintained by Open Robotics, a non-profit which is based in Mountain View, California. ROS is already used in the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot, which has assisted in the International Space Station’s research, and in the autonomous Astrobee robots, which float around the ISS supporting astronauts in their routine tasks.

The ROS will carry out ground flight control tasks. NASA staff will control the Viper rover from Earth. Ground flight control will then use the data collected by Viper for a real-time map and rendering of the lunar environment, with which the rover’s drivers will then be able to navigate more safely. Other parts of the rover’s software also have open source roots: the “Core Flight System” (cFS) program, which NASA developed itself and made available free of charge on GitHub, is responsible for basic functions like telemetry and on-board file management. Viper’s mission operations beyond the rover will be carried out by Open MCT, another NASA development.

Viper will be controlled in real time – almost

In addition, the Viper mission is suitable for open source software. Because the Moon is so close, the rover will be able to be controlled almost in real time, meaning that part of the software does not need to be on the rover, but can be run on Earth instead.

However, Viper doesn’t run fully on open source software. For example, its onboard flight system uses reliable proprietary software. Nevertheless it can be assumed that future missions will both use and extend the open source software used for the Viper mission.

Open source flies on Red Planet

Today NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter became the first craft to be flown remotely on another planet. The Ingenuity team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT).

Ingenuity’s mission was essentially a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars. The helicopter rode to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 3 metres, with Ingenuity maintaining a stable hover for 30 seconds.

Mars has a significantly lower gravity – only one-third that of Earth’s – and an extremely thin atmosphere with only 1% the pressure at the surface compared to our planet. This means there are relatively few molecules with which Ingenuity’s two 1.2 metre wide rotor blades can interact to achieve flight. The helicopter contains unique components, as well as off-the-shelf-commercial parts – many from the smartphone industry – that were tested in deep space for the first time with this mission.

Both Perseverance and Ingenuity feature free and open source software (posts passim) extensively.

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