Posts tagged open source

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.

ASF’s spring clean

Apache Software Foundation logoDuring the first week of April, the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) announced it was moving some projects to a virtual attic, German IT news site heise reports. Projects which are no longer being worked on and are to a certain extent regarded as “retired” end up in Apache’s attic.

The official announcement is the final stage of the journey to the attic and may take some time to implement. Ironically, a project with the dashing name of Falcon (the peregrine falcon is the fastest moving animal on Earth with a dive speed of some 380 km/h. Ed.) is taking some time to make the move: Falcon was abandoned in June 2019.

Falcon for data management

The ASF took Falcon 2013 under its wing in 2013 and the data management project was promoted to a top level after two years’ incubation. At the time the project’s was widespread in big data projects with Hadoop and inter alia with Hortonworks and Talend.

Apache Falcon’s retirement means there will be no further development of the project by the ASF. The Foundation’s virtual attic was created in 2008. It contains all the projects which have officially reached their end of life. The Attic webpage describes the retirement process.

The time frame between the decision to retire a project and the end of removal works varies considerably. Hervé Boutemy, the manager of Apache’s Attic is expected to announce the official retirement of a further 19 projects in the next few days in addition to Falcon. The retirement process has likewise been officially concluded for the Apex, Aurora, Forrest, Hama, Stanbol and VXQuery projects.

Still available but no longer developed

Projects in the Attic remain available there and project pages can still exist, as for Apache Falcon. However, the ASF no longer pays attention to either further development or bug fixes. Anyone interest can fork the projects at any time and ASF lists these forks.

From time to time, if a project proves to be more popular than expected when it was retired, it will be retrieved from the attic and revived. For example, the Foundation dug XMLBeans out of the attic in summer 2018 after four years’ “retirement“.

Brazilian Portuguese LibreOffice guide now available

Last week The Document Foundation blog announced the release of the LibreOffice 7.0 Getting Started Guide in Brazilian Portuguese. This new guide is based on the English language guide released last month (posts passim).

Cover of Brazilian Portuguese LibreOffice guide

In fact the Brazilian Portuguese guide is based on the English version. Its basis was a machine translation of the English guide which was then revised by members of the LibreOffice Brazilian community. Future editions of the Getting Started Guide will be done without translation, but by writing directly in Portuguese about new features in LibreOffice and information about the suite.

Like its English counterpart, the Brazilian Portuguese Getting Started Guide outlines the development of LibreOffice and introduces each of its modules: spreadsheets (Calc), presentations (Impress), vector drawings (Draw), text processing (Writer), equations (Maths) and databases (Base). In addition to these modules, there are several chapters describing important concepts common to all modules such as styles, printing, electronic signing, macros, exporting in various formats, redacting and document classification.

Contributors to the new guide were Vera Cavalcante, Jackson Cavalcanti Jr., Timothy Brennan Jr., Flávio Schefer, Felipe Viggiano, Raul Pacheco da Silva, Túlio Macedo and Olivier Hallot.

The new Brazilian Portuguese LibreOffice 7.0 Getting Started Guide can be downloaded in PDF format.

In addition to the new guide, the Brazilian LibreOffice Community also produces its own LibreOffice magazine.

Dortmund adopts free software policy

Phoenixsee, Dortmund. Image courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsDortmund’s city council has paved the way for “Public Money? Public Code!” In the future, software developed or commissioned by the administration will be made available to the general public, the Free Software Federation Europe (FSFE) reports.

Back in February, the city council approved a motion previously submitted by the SPD, Bündnis90/Die Grünen, CDU, Die Linke+ and FDP/Bürgerliste. In the future, Free Software is to be used wherever possible and software developed or commissioned for development by the administration is to be made available to the general public.

Matthias Kirschner, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe states: “We are happy that the DO-FOSS initiative was able to convince the city of Dortmund of the principle of “Public Money? Public Code”. Free Software gives everyone the right to use, study, share and improve software for any purpose. These freedoms also benefit administrations. Public administrations that follow this principle can benefit from numerous advantages: Collaboration with other government agencies, independence from individual vendors, potential tax savings, innovation and a more solid basis for IT security. The Council’s decision means that there is now the political backing to gradually break down dependencies on proprietary vendors. We will accompany the implementation and at the same time call on other administrations in Germany and Europe to follow Dortmund’s example.

SUSE IPO this summer

SUSE logoSUSE was the first Linux distribution I actually used as a day-to-day working system over 15 years ago. It was the distribution on which I learnt about Linux, so it has a special place in my affections.

The impetus to install it came from a friend who bought a set of 5 installation CDs off eBay for me as a present.

Later on, I treated myself to SUSE Linux Professional 9.3 for some £50. It came as a box set of 2 DVDs and 5 CDs, along with a doorstep-sized manual.

SUSE is a good, solid distribution and excellent for business use with its SUSE Enterprise Linux server and desktop offerings and paid-for support.

SUSE also sponsors the community-supported openSUSE project, which develops the openSUSE Linux distribution, which is available in both rolling release (Tumbleweed) and regular release (Leap) versions.

Founded in Germany 1992, SUSE was the first company to market Linux to business. Over the years its ownership has changed many times. In 2004 it was acquired by Novell. Novell and with it SUSE were then purchased by Attachmate (with financial assistance from Microsoft) in 2010. In 2014 Microfocus acquired Attachmate and SUSE was spun off as a separate division under the name SUSE Software Solutions Germany GmbH. Finally, EQT purchased SUSE from Micro Focus for $2.5 billion in March 2019.

News has now emerged that SUSE is being prepared for stock flotation in Europe in via an IPO in the next few months (May is mentioned as the earliest date) with Bank of America and Morgan Stanley executing the IPO with the aid of Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and Jefferies.

According to Le Monde Informatique, SUSE is likely to have a market valuation of €7-8 bn. for the IPO.

LibreOffice 7.1.1 released

Towards the end of last week The Document Foundation (TDF) announced the release of LibreOffice 7.1.1, the first point release of LibreOffice 7.1, which is available for immediate download.

This release over contains 90 bug fixes and improvements to document compatibility.

LibreOffice 7.1 banner

As usual, TDF suggests that this release is aimed at technology enthusiasts and power users, rather than more conservative business users for whom an older release is recommended.

This latest release is available for all major desktop operating systems (Linux, MacOS and Windows), mobile platforms (Android and iOS) and the cloud. Instead of downloading via the link above, Linux users might like to wait until the update is provided directly via the repositories of their individual distributions, whilst those for mobile devices can be obtained via the app stores for their respective operating systems.

TDF’s wiki charts the changes and improvements in the latest release via the changes made in the two release candidates: RC1 and RC2.

LibreOffice users are invited to join the community so they can both get and provide individual support. Those willing to contribute their time and professional skills to the project can visit the dedicated What Can I Do For LibreOffice website.

Finally, LibreOffice users, free software advocates and community members can give financial assistance to The Document Foundation with a donation via PayPal, credit card or other means.

Lenovo must pay Italian developer €20,000 in damages for refusing €42 Windows refund

In aLuca Bonissi - image courtesy of FSFE historic judgment in Italy, Lenovo was ordered to pay €20,000 euros in damages for abusive behaviour for refusing to refund the price of a pre-installed Windows licence in a case initiated by Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) supporter Luca Bonissi, the FSFE reports.

A grateful Luca is donating €15,000 of the award to the FSFE.

It should go without saying that everyone should be able to freely choose the operating system to run on their personal computers.However, this freedom is regularly abused by hardware suppliers to such an extent that it is almost impossible to buy a new or used system without having to pay the so-called Windows tax for an unwanted OS. Some computer manufacturers still make it very hard for consumers, forcing them to assert their rights in expensive and exhausting lawsuits.

This is what happened to Luca Bonissi.

In March 2018, Luca bought a brand-new Lenovo Ideapad and decided he didn’t want to run Windows on it. He therefore contacted Lenovo to request a refund for the pre-installed Windows system.

This initiated a lengthy two-year bureaucratic and legal all because the company twice refused to refund the €42 Luca had been charged for the unwanted Windows system. After having his requests denied twice by Lenovo, Luca tried to seek help from the Italian Competition and Market Authority (AGCM). However, when he realised that these efforts were fruitless, Luca decided to take legal action against Lenovo.

He therefore initiated proceedings in a small claims court without legal assistance, but soon sought professional aid when Lenovo proved obstinate.

In June 2019, the Justice of the Peace of Monza upheld Luca’s right to reimbursement and ordered Lenovo to refund €42 for the Windows licence and also ordered the company to pay €130 in legal costs

However, Lenovo was dissatisfied with the verdict and appealed, citing 15 grounds for appeal, implicating Luca in further legal proceedings and yet more expense for legal advice.

Finally, in December 2020, the Court of First Instance in Monza rejected all Lenovo’s arguments, upholding the consumer’s right to a refund for the unused pre-installed operating system. The court noted that the manufacturer itself had expressly assumed this obligation in the Windows licence. Furthermore, in a historic decision, the court imposed punitive damages of €20,000 on Lenovo for abusing the appeal process.

Commenting on his victory in court Luca stated: “The Monza decision demonstrated that is possible to reverse the unacceptable behaviour of big techs. What was taken away from the Free Software community has now been returned to it. I encourage everyone to fight back for their legitimate rights!”

LibreOffice 7.0 beginner’s guide launched

Cover of LibreOffice 7.0 Getting Started GuideThe Document Foundation’s blog announced last week that the LibreOffice Documentation Team had released its LibreOffice 7.0 Getting Started Guide. The Guide, which was previously issued for LibreOffice version 6.4, has been updated to include all the new and improved features of LibreOffice 7.0, the latest version of LibreOffice, the free and open source alternative to proprietary office suites.

The guide has been drafted especially for those wanting to get up to speed quickly with LibreOffice, whether they are new users of office productivity software or already have some familiarity with other office suites, such as Microsoft’s ubiquitous and expensive offering.

The guide provides an introduction the LibreOffice’s 6 major components, i.e.:

  • Writer (word processing)
  • Calc (spreadsheets)
  • Impress (presentations)
  • Draw (vector graphics)
  • Base (database)
  • Math (equation editor)

Furthermore, it also covers some of the features common to all those components – set-up and customisation, styles and templates, macro recording, digital signing and printing.

The guide can be downloaded (PDF format) from LibreOffice’s English Documentation site., which also includes links to documentation in other languages, as well as user guides for earlier LibreOffice releases.

Google funds security-focussed Linux kernel developers

Tux - the Linux kernel mascotOn Wednesday the Linux Foundation and Google announced that Google would be funding two full-time maintainers for Linux kernel security development, Gustavo Silva and Nathan Chancellor.

Silva and Chancellor’s will focus on maintaining and improving kernel security, as well as associated initiatives to ensure the continuing viability of the world’s most pervasive open source software project.

The Linux Foundation’s Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) and Harvard University’s Laboratory for Innovation Science (LISH) recently published an open source contributor survey report that identified a need for additional work on security in open source software, including the Linux operating system. Linux has more than 20,000 contributors. While there are thousands of Linux kernel developers, all of whom take security into consideration in their work, this contribution from Google to underwrite two full-time Linux security maintainers signals the importance of security for the future of open source software.

“At Google, security is always top of mind and we understand the critical role it plays to the sustainability of open source software,” said Dan Lorenc, Staff Software Engineer for Google. “We’re honored to support the efforts of both Gustavo Silva and Nathan Chancellor as they work to enhance the security of the Linux kernel.”

Chancellor’s work will be focused on triaging and fixing all bugs found with Clang/LLVM compilers while working on establishing continuous integration systems to support this work. Once those aims are well-established, he plans to begin adding features to the kernel using these compiler technologies. Chancellor has been a kernel developer for over 4 years.

Gustavo Silva’s full-time Linux security work is currently dedicated to eliminating several classes of buffer overflows. In addition, he is actively focusing on fixing bugs before they hit the mainline and has been contributing to kernel development since 2010.

Funding Linux kernel security and development is a collaborative effort, supported by the world’s largest companies that depend on the Linux operating system. To support work like this, discussions are taking place in the Securing Critical Projects Working Group inside the OpenSSF.

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