Partly to alleviate boredom and partly to force myself to get back in the habit of writing more, I’m presenting and commenting on some of the tech and freedom stories that I found interesting this week:

  1. Stylish Add-on For Firefox
    First on the list is the incredibly cool Firefox add-on called “Stylish.” What stylish essentially does is apply third-party CSS code to various websites, bringing them in line with your personal tastes and/or desktop themes. Another blog post on mashable.com yielded a comprehensive overview of some of the scripts available for Stylish on userstyles.org (many of them are also available for both Greasemonkey and Opera), including this gorgeous rewrite of Google that I now use (easily localized, too). Have a look around at UserStyles and see what catches your eye.
  2. “Gran Paradiso Alpha 6” (Firefox 3) Released
    There is not much I could write that our friend Matt Hoy didn’t already write over at his blog, MBHoy.com. Firefox Alpha 3, codenamed “Gran Paradiso,” has been released. I haven’t begun to use it myself, preferring to keep all of my plugins and add-ons intact, but word has it that the new Firefox has stopped leaking memory like a sieve, weighing at under 100MB even with over a dozen tabs open. For someone like me who usually keeps 3-4 browser windows, each with 8-10 tabs open, across multiple workspaces, this is very good news indeed.
  3. Gobuntu Announced On Shuttleworth’s Blog
    Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, Ltd. and financial backer of the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution has announced a project called “Gobuntu” which will focus on stripping out every piece of software that is not “free,” i.e. freely modifiable and redistributable. “We are trying to apply the FSF ‘rights’ definition to everything in the platform,” said Shuttleworth in an update to his blog posted Tuesday. As a staunch supporter of software freedom and of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) I certainly applaud this. One of the major drawbacks, however, is that a lot of popular formats and technologies (including PDF, MP3 and Flash) are anything but free, with either serious patent issues (MP3) or being downright closed technologies (PDF and Flash, both Adobe products). Shuttleworth addresses this saying, “This means that we try to strip out ANYTHING which is not modifiable and redistributable, including firmware, PDF’s, video footage, sounds etc” and goes on to explain that “Gobuntu will not correctly enable much hardware today – but it exists as a banner for the cause of software freedom and as a reference of what IS possible with a totally rigorous approach.” I had not been the hugest fan of Shuttleworth for awhile for various reasons and tried, unsuccessfully I might add, to find another distro that suited me better. But between his flat-out “we will not even entertain a patent deal with Microsoft” and his seemingly increasing commitment to software freedom, rather than mere “open source” software, which is often not freely redistributable or modifiable, I am once more a fan. Keep up the good work, Mark!
  4. Open Up To Open Formats
    Robert Strohmeyer of MaximumPC has written an engaging article about the need for all of us, not just GNU/Linux users, to move to free and open formats rather than sticking with the old “standards” such as MP3 and DOC, both owned by corporations. Strohmeyer doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing the benefits of open music formats such as OGG, but he touches on the important bits, such as why DRM is a heinous affront to the rights of consumers. He mostly covers the issues with DOC, OpenXML (MS’s “open” format) and ODF (OpenDocument Format, used by OpenOffice.org).

    If someone’s been using Microsoft Word for a decade, and all of their old files are in the DOC format, they’ll most likely feel (whether it’s reasonable or not) that they should continue to buy upgrades to Word in perpetuity, out of an ill-founded concern for backward compatibility. The reality, however, is that proprietary standards create greater compatibility problems than open ones, because they are less subject to approval and oversight, and the changes they undergo tend to serve the interests of the vendor rather than the end user.

    All in all, not a bad read at all. And it’s very heartening seeing articles that are pro-freedom in a magazine like MaximumPC, which is geared toward hardware geeks who are, for the most part, running Windows. Give it a go, it’s short enough.

  5. Apple Purchases CUPS
    Apple Computers has purchased the CUPS printing system from developer Michael R. Sweet. While Apple first licensed CUPS for use on OS X in 2002, it has now purchased the source code and hired Sweet. While Sweet did say, “CUPS will still be released under the existing GPL2/LGPL2 licensing terms, and I will continue to develop and support CUPS at Apple,” I have had a steadily declining respect for Apple and the way it views software and consumer freedom. Maybe they’ll charge us an extra $0.30 per page we print like they charge for DRM-free songs on iTunes.