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08.27.08

Links 27/08/2008: More GNU/Linux Laptops from Dell, Momentum Seems High, Cisco Buys PostPath

Posted in News Roundup at 7:53 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

GNU/Linux

Hardware

Devices

Ubuntu

F/OSS

Firefox/Web

Leftovers

Digital Tipping Point: Clip of the Day

Internet personality Christa Casebeer, aka Linuxchic on Alternageek.com

Ogg Theora

Digital Tipping Point is a Free software-like project where the raw videos are code. You can assist by participating.

Eye on Microsoft: Anti-GNU/Linux Move, Pressure to Downgrade to Vista

Posted in Africa, Apple, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Security, Vista, Windows at 7:07 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

There are some news items which are worth covering, but time is limited, so here are a few quickies.

The Fight Against GNU/Linux and ODF in South Africa

As background, it is important to be reminded of what happened a month ago in South Africa. Microsoft seems desperate to stop the country’s fast adoption of GNU/Linux and standards like ODF.

Microsoft not only provided ‘free’ (gratis) proprietary software to people who have no computers. Now it appears to be reaching out to Intel for help. We saw this before, so the pattern is too familiar. The following article requires subscription, but the excerpt drops a clue.

South Africa’s retail bank Absa has teamed with Intel and Microsoft to offer students PC and notebook finance packages.

It’s not unusual for Intel to sidlie with Microsoft in these ‘anti-GNU/Linux crusades’. Remember the OLPC outrage and stories from China and Russia.

As part of the fight against ODF and Free software, Microsoft also approaches young people with lower barriers to harmful addition.

Microsoft Aggravates Windows XP Users to Push Them to Vista?

Microsoft really loves what it arrogantly calls 'piracy', but only as long as those ‘pirates’ use what the company wants them to use. Watch what Microsoft has just begun doing.

Microsoft Corp. today said it will update the antipiracy software in Windows XP Professional to make nagging more prominent for those running bogus copies and — assuming the user approves the update — to skip any future notification of an impending update to the tool.

It’s time to upgrade, no? John Dvorak has something to say about the Windows upgrade treadmill.

The release of a new OS begins both a new hardware buying cycle and an upgrade cycle. Since the buying cycle is stretched to six years or more, you end up with an interesting phenomenon: The upgrade cycle is contaminated with machines too old to upgrade. This causes the entire system to break down because the upgrade cycle immediately feeds back into the perception of the new product. In the situation with Vista, too many old clunkers couldn’t be upgraded and the OS was given a bad reputation. This was worsened by Microsoft itself discouraging upgrades and admitting to problems.

Going back to the start, this is why Intel loves Microsoft and it’s the reasons they collaborate like this.

Don’t Count on Your Vote

Reports have been circulating recently which spoke about Windows-based voting machines losing count. The database engine from Microsoft was reported to have led to data corruption in Diebold machines over a year ago. If observers thought such glitches are the exception, how about this from the news?

Shacknews discovered something strange while testing out Microsoft’s “Rock The Vote” section on Xbox Live: Silver users can’t register to vote.

That seemed like a one-time glitch.

Security

Another day, another serious problem.

iViZ ,a company that specializes in on-demand penetration testing, announced its discovery of a new class of vulnerability. This vulnerability lets attackers steal computer boot passwords and reach the pre-boot authentication software like hard disk encryption tools. It can result in unauthorized access and theft of confidential data, contributing to an already big problem; for 2007, the global loss due to data theft was estimated at $40 billion.

And here is the article “Security Researcher Warns of Vista Vulnerabilities.” We covered Vista and security before, as well as the consequences.

A New Zealand security researcher is exploring several scenarios in which Windows Vista could be attacked and warns more protection is needed for users.

Ben Hawkes presented his findings at the Black Hat conference, held in Las Vegas this month, and will also present them at the Kiwicon conference, to be held in Wellington in the end of September.

Hawkes’ research has uncovered hacking techniques for attacking the Vista heap, which is a dynamic memory management component, used by every single application, from Microsoft Word to web applications, he says.

Now look at this. Windows viruses are going out of planet Earth and are now infecting computers in space. Amusing picture here. Hopefully, for the aliens’ safety, Microsoft does not yet stock its software in other galaxies.

Legal

More legal settlements with Microsoft. It’s about patents.

Immersion Corp, which develops and licenses touch feedback technology, said it will pay $20.75 million to software maker Microsoft Corp as part of the settlement of a litigation.

The companies agreed to resolve Microsoft’s claim under a 2003 sublicense agreement, as well as Immersion’s counterclaim that Microsoft breached a confidentiality agreement dated May 2007, Immersion said in a statement.

Microsoft could face lawsuits from China in the coming years. Learn how Microsoft operates in China.

Dong Zhengwei, a partner with Beijing-based Zhongyin law firm, has attracted the attention of multinational corporate executives and the legal community alike, after he filed a complaint against Microsoft with China’s anti-monopoly regulators and proposed that a US$1bn fine be imposed on the global software giant.

Apple Rivalry

Microsoft viciously sabotaged PlayStation 3 launch parties around the world when Sony launched the product back in 2006. Apple advocates suspect that Microsoft will try to become Apple’s party pooper.

The Mac rumour machine is predicting Apple will introduce new products at a special event on 9 September – but now it appears Microsoft plans to flex its muscle to spoil Apple’s game.

That would be typical. Remember what happened on Document Freedom Day.

Novell Gets Close to Linux Foundation, Microsoft Gets Closer to Novell

Posted in GNU/Linux, Interview, Kernel, Microsoft, Novell, OSDL at 6:33 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Early in the day we wrote about Novell’s and the Linux Foundation’s cold attitude towards Free software. Based on the latest from the Linux Foundation, Ron Hovsepian and Jim Zemlin will be be doing another public chat where the deal with Microsoft is unlikely to be brought up and betrayal of the developers even discussed [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

Here is just one of the few articles covering it (so far).

The free, invitation-only event will feature an address by Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian and a question-and-answer session with Zemlin.

Here is the press release:

– An address from Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian, which will include a Q&A
with the Linux Foundation’s executive director Jim Zemlin.

They give a lot of exposure to Novell in that event. How come?

Are the Foundation’s members aware of Microsoft's proximity to Novell? What might be the impact Monofestation and other C# manifestations a lá Vala? The following new article about .NET mentions Novell’s role as though it’s part of Microsoft’s movement for development domination.

In addition to .NET, there are other implementations of CIL—the two most well known by Microsoft and Novell. Microsoft’s implementation is an open source offering for the purposes of research and education called the Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure (SSCLI). The Novell offering is called Mono, which is also open source.

This will make Novell a more attractive takeover target. And speaking of which, also based on the latest news, Microsoft puts resources in Utah. Again.

Microsoft has become an investor in Move Networks, a growing Utah company that streams television on the Internet for entities such as the NFL and Disney.

There are some more details about it here. Microsoft was recently seen expanding in Fargo, hiring 5 employees for its new base there. Prelude to a strategic move, a coincidence, or none of the above? Microsoft is already toying with Novell, so it’s probably a matter of preparation and just a matter of time.

Microsoft ZUN

Can the of Scale of Linux Adoption Ever be Gauged?

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FUD, GNU/Linux, Servers, Ubuntu at 5:50 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Determining usage and growth of Free software has always been a challenge. For over a decade, arguments have been held — sometimes flamewars — whose central point was the usage scale of software which is freely distributed. While market share can be estimated based on the number of sales. Free software usually replaces existing software that is proprietary, i.e. its ownership lies with a vendor and it is usually treated as an integral part of another product.

When discussing Free software, the term “installed base” seems rather popular. It is installation, not embedment or preinstallation, that tailors a product to the owner’s personal needs. Unfortunately, installed base, as opposed to market share, proves to be a tricky thing to gauge.

At the center of this debate, one typically finds the GNU/Linux operating system. Many perceive Linux the greatest contender which can bring Free software to the mainstream. Linux is commonly obtained through exchange of CDs, which can be modified, change hands, and be used to deploy the same software on multiple computers. The content of these CDs is usually (albeit not always) downloaded from the Internet. Lesser-known Linux distributions are sometimes obtained through peers or via BitTorrent, which cannot be properly tracked. These channels of communication are decentralized by nature.

Endless attempts have been made to count Linux users. Userbase vanity harbours confidence and leads to better support from the industry. Attempts to quantify growth included Web sites whose sole purpose is to have Linux users register and provide details about their computer/s. Even the most prominent among these Web sites met very limited success. They were not able to keep up with change, let alone attract and grab the attention of all Linux users. Most Linux users were simply apathetic toward this cause.

In more recent years, the ubiquity of interconnected devices and computers played an important role in statistics. Computing units that offer Web access have generated large piles of data. Statistical analysis of this data was thought to be another opportunity to study presence and geography of Linux users around the planet. It has, however, been a very deficient analysis. For a variety of reasons, too many assumptions were made, which led to flawed conclusions. To this date, no proper and valid analysis has been carried out.

Looking more closely at some difficulties in interpreting Web statistics, there are numerous factors to consider. There are obvious problems. The sample of selectively-chosen Web sites often contains particular audiences which, on average, do not represent the entire population. Additionally, due to diversity in the identity of Linux, as it comes in just one among a large number of distributions, identification strings are hard to understand. As such, many Linux users are simply be treated as though they use an “unknown” operating system. This “unknown” component is statistically significant, yet it tends to be ignored and discarded.

There are more problems that need to be taken into consideration. For example, data gathered by Web sites neglects to identify computers that are operated behind proxies, or even Squid. This data also assumes that everyone identifies himself or herself in a truly honest fashion. The matter of fact is that certain Web sites were designed to reject access from every Web browser other than Internet Explorer. As a result, many Linux users are forced to pretend (by altering HTTP headers) that they use a typical Windows setup. This is known as spoofing or forging and it is a matter of convenience.

“To use an example, Hollywood is considered a place where production studios adopt Linux, even on the desktop.”The last factor to consider here are botnets (zombie PCs), which are essentially travelling the World Wide Web. It’s a relentless Web journey and this happens without the awareness of the rightful owner of the computer. This troublesome phenomenon means that large amounts of Web traffic is devoured in a very wasteful fashion. It does not reflect on human consumption of information. Botnets ‘pollute’ log data and therefore tweak statistics. It rarely (if ever) works in favor of secure operating systems and Web browsers.

Web statistics and research that revolves around them suffers from yet another false assumption. One must not simply accept the contention that all computers are connected to the Internet nowadays. If they are, their users do not necessarily visit an identical number of Web sites or consume an equal number of pages. Different operating systems are used in different settings. They serve a particular purpose and facilitate working tasks that might not require the Internet at all.

To use an example, Hollywood is considered a place where production studios adopt Linux, even on the desktop. In a recent interview with the press, CinePaint’s Project Manager said that “Linux is the default operating [system] on desktops and servers at major animation and visual effects studios, with maybe 98 percent [or more] penetration”. These computers, which include user-facing workstations, get used heavily for design and rendering work, but probably not for Web surfing.

There have been other projects that are intended to keep track of the number of Linux users by setting up a communication channel that connects a computer to the Linux distributor’s servers. These projects are neither mature nor widely adopted.

On the other hand, the increasing adoption of online software repositories has made this process more feasible without it being considered “spying”. And yet, inexistence of a registration process leaves room for dynamic addressing, so a single unique user is still hard to identify. The user will remain a moving target on the network as long as system registration is an absent component. Free software is adverse to such privacy-compromising steps, so they are unlikely to ever become mandatory.

Last year, in an interview with Red Herring, Canonical’s CEO Mark Shuttleworth commented about the activity on his company’s repositories. At the time, at least 8 million distinct users or addresses with a particular version of his Linux distribution could be identified. That was only months after the release of this distribution, which many of us had already known as “Ubuntu”.

Regardless of the adoption rate of Linux on the desktop, Linux enjoys double-figure inter-quarter growth on the server side. This trend has sustained itself for several years. There are, however, great difficulties to overcome when it comes to tracking how widespread — not just profitable — Linux has become on in the datacenter. Market figures regularly come from analysts, but these figures are based purely on sales. They only gauge revenue. They fail to account for the fact that Linux is free and it is becoming easier to set up each year. Many companies take the do-it-yourself route and build their own server farms. They do not require much assistance, so deployment can be completed without a Linux purchase per se ever being made. The true growth of Linux will therefore stay an enigma for quite some time to come.

At the end of the day, let us all remember that Free software was not created to thrive in profits. There is no marketing department to boast growth either. Whether we use a search engine, or connect to a mail server, or acquire some snazzy gadget, Linux is likely to be there. The desktop, however, is perceived as an ultimate destination. It has the most visibility. Laptops and desktops can demonstrate that Linux has come and that it is here to stay and thrive. The back room usually escapes people’s attention, despite a gradual shift in paradigm, which encourages adoption of remote services and thinner clients.

Counting the number of Linux users might always remain an impossibility. Should you mind?

Originally published in Datamation in 2007 and reached the front page of Slashdot

Links 27/08/2008: Ubuntu CE 4.0 Released, Dems Block GNU/Linux

Posted in News Roundup at 11:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

GNU/Linux

F/OSS

Java

Microsoft & Politics

  • An open letter to Barack Obama and the DNC (or, change video formats)

    If the DNCC website is any indication, the promise of openness is empty.

    [...]

    By restricting access to either MS-Windows or Apple OSX, the DNCC is restricting freedom of choice in operating systems. A fairly large (3% or more) segment of the population uses other, freely-available operating systems such as GNU/Linux. (Here, “freely-available” does not refer to price, but to freedom.)

  • Democratic National Convention against GNU/Linux or bought by Microsoft?

    I know what most people must be thinking- this is just another crazy GNU/Linux zealot. Well, I’m not. Let me set things straight. This isn’t about GNU/Linux vs Linux, this isn’t about the Democratic National Convention being anti-GNU/Linux or being bought by Microsoft. No. This is about advocating against solutions that are marginalizing groups of people. This is just one example of where Microsoft’s monopoly is abusing its strengths to stifle competition. When we don’t complain loudly about utilizing new or proprietary technology we allow web developers or those in charge the opportunity to stifle our choices. It doesn’t matter if you use GNU/Linux or not- because tomorrow the choice of which technology to adopt will have been made for you- for better or worse.

  • Online dirty tricks may mar U.S. elections

    As the U.S. presidential elections draw closer, voting activists are bracing themselves for an onslaught of online dirty tricks and misinformation campaigns designed to deceive and disenfranchise voters.

    Political dirty tricks and misinformation close to election time are, of course, nothing new. But experts say they are about to get nastier and more prevalent because of the ease of disseminating them online.

  • Bad Idea: Tax Energy To Reduce Blogging

    The modern version of the so-called traditional media has failed us to the extent bloggers have to take the press into their own hands. This was the media that gave us Paris Hilton when we were hungry about news from Iraq, about government wiretapping, about corporate-government corruption. Much of that was distraction from whose corporate media hands were dropping coins into whose government coffers. This is the media that had to be called out by bloggers for falsified documents aired on CBS in 2004. This is the media at the mercy of AstroTurf organizations. This is the media that ignored much of what we wanted to hear about until we raised a stink online.

    No one, except for those with vested interest in controlling information, is willing to go back to a set of elites (prodded by deep-pocketed publishers) deciding what the idiot masses need to hear about. And definitely no one is willing to let the government try to shut us up via taxes.

    Remember the Boston Tea Party?

Apple

Leftovers

Digital Tipping Point: Clip of the Day

Chris Moody, GNU-Linux network volunteer for a San Diego public school. 01 (2004)

Ogg Theora

Digital Tipping Point is a Free software-like project where the raw videos are code. You can assist by participating.

Microsoft, TCS, DCI, Edelman, and Those Fake Letters About IP/SCO/Monopoly

Posted in Antitrust, Fraud, Marketing, Microsoft, Patents, SCO at 10:04 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Microsoft’s “letters from the dead” fiasco was discussed here before [1, 2], but once a careful look is taken, more can be found. There are a few more parties involved.

TCS’s articles have also complemented work being done by DCI. During 2000, Microsoft contracted with DCI to perform various services, among them generating “grassroots” letters opposing a breakup of Microsoft and launching Americans for Technology Leadership, an anti-breakup group funded in part by Microsoft and run out of DCI’s office. Meanwhile, down the hall, Tech Central Station went on the offensive, inaugurating an “anti-trust” section that over the coming months would publish little except defenses of Microsoft and attacks on the software maker’s corporate and governmental antagonists, with occasional detours into the subject of lawsuit reform. (Microsoft smartly plugged some of the articles on its own Web site.)

(More on the fake letters here; another bit of Microsoft astroturf here.)

With TCS pushing Microsoft’s agenda in one area, what do they publish about Open Source software, another strategic concern for Microsoft? To find out, I collected all the articles published in TCS on Open Source software and listed them in the table below.

The original from Talking Points Memo is no longer there. A lot more can be found here however. it’s an eye-opening analysis of lobbyists in the press.

Concentrating on Microsoft specifically, here is another oldie.

Ziffle passed along this note about Microsoft’s lobbying campaign to Utah attorney general backfiring. Apparently Microsoft has more support from dead people than Chicago Democrats.

In retrospect, this fiasco was useful because it is a good method for finding the relationships between various pressure/marketing groups and Microsoft. The Web Archive still has a copy of this article that’s no longer there. It moved here:

Letters purportedly written by at least two dead people landed on the desk of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff earlier this year, imploring him to go easy on Microsoft for its conduct as a monopoly.

The pleas, along with more than 100 others from Utah residents, are part of a carefully orchestrated nationwide campaign by the software giant that may be backfiring. Microsoft sought to create the impression of a surging grass-roots movement, aimed largely at the attorneys general of some of the 18 states that have joined the Justice Department in suing Microsoft.

The Microsoft campaign goes to great lengths to create an impression that the letters are spontaneous expressions from ordinary people. Letters sent in the last month are on personalized stationery using different wording, color and typefaces, details that distinguish Microsoft’s efforts from lobbying tactics that go on in politics every day.

Here is the Edelman connection.

Microsoft got grilled again earlier this month when details of its latest public relations campaign came to light. Working with Edelman Public Relations, the Redmond, Wash., software giant allegedly planned to launch a prefabricated “grassroots” campaign to aid it in its legal battles with the Justice Department and state attorneys general. The companies planned to use everyday citizens to plant letters to the editor and other materials that would make it seem there was an outpouring of public support for Microsoft.

This proves that Microsoft does a lot of its work by proxy, as it hired agencies to do its dirty work.

Edelman is the same firm that bribed bloggers with Windows Vista laptops [1, 2] and possibly got boycotted by some other publications for this behaviour. But time seems to heal many wounds and lift embargoes, too. How much can these people get away with really before law enforcers shut them down?

In order to defend itself from antitrust action, Microsoft is said to have also AstroTurfed in ZDNet.

The author of the email, posted on ZDNet in a Talkback forum on the Microsoft antitrust trial, claimed her name was Michelle Bradley and that she had “retired” from Microsoft last week.

“A verbal memo [no email allowed] was passed around the MS campus encouraging MS employee’s to post to ZDNet articles like this one,” the email said.

“The theme is ‘Microsoft is responsible for all good things in computerdom.’ The government has no right to prevent MS from doing anything. Period. The ‘memo’ suggests we use fictional names and state and to identify ourselves as students,” the author claimed.

Whether it was true or not, the behaviour lives on to this date. Microsoft employees (“evangelists”) market Microsoft products in ZDNet. How about this one from CNET (of Microsoft’s co-founder, Paul Allen)?

Microsoft paid for newspaper ads claiming to represent the independent views of 240 academic experts who said the government’s antitrust case against the software giant was hurting consumers.

The story “Microsoft secretly paid for ads for Independent Institute” published September 18, 1999 at 5:30 AM is no longer available on CNET News.com.

It’s becoming hard to know who to trust. Identifying points of deception and publicising it may be the most effective solution.

“Gates met Noorda briefly in San Francisco to discuss the merger [...] before the merger could go forward, he said Novell had to drop its plans to buy Digital Research. [...] when Noorda raised the possibility that the Justice Department might try to block a merger between the first and third biggest software companies on the planet, Gates responded, “Don’t worry, we know how to handle the federal government.” [...] Gates denied every saying such a thing

Source: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace

Tale of the Feeble Selling Out (Google Trends)

Posted in Linspire, Microsoft, Novell, OpenSUSE, Patents, SCO, SLES/SLED, Turbolinux, Xandros at 9:14 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

SUSE:

SUSE

TurboLinux:

TurboLinux

Linspire:

Linspire

Novell:

Novell

Microsoft:

Microsoft

Microsoft Novell:

Microsoft Novell

Xandros:

Xandros

Software Patents:

Software Patents

OpenSUSE:

OpenSUSE

SCO:

SCO

Novell’s Hack Week: Mono, Ports to Windows, Mac OS X

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Java, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Windows at 8:58 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Loss of direction

It’s disappointing enough that the head of the Linux Foundation (which we have not much respect for [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]) buys an iPhone, but it’s also worth highlighting the fact that some Novell employees still have Macs./p>

Here for example is a video interview with a Novell General Manager that uses a Mac. Granted, some of these people run GNU/Linux on Mac hardware (Linus Torvalds for instance), but some may not. Either way, it’s clear that Novell and the Linux Foundation, which is partly funded by Novell, are not truly committed to what they preach, especially on the desktop. The other option is that they simply don’t preach what people believe they should preach.

“…they simply don’t preach what people believe they should preach.”Maybe Novell is not an open source company after all. It actually insists that it’s a “mixed source” company [1, 2, 3, 4]. Microsoft adopted a similar ploy.

Are there no decent laptops that come without an operating system? Is it true that there are no business-ready Linux phones, as Jim Zemlin seems to be implying by deeds? Frankly, this is just embarrassing, but it reflects perfectly well on the stance taken by those who consider themselves pragmatists and concede key values even at the very senior level. Dana Blankenhorn, for example, is one among many writers who cover open source and GNU/Linux without actually using it. It’s insulting.

Found in the news yesterday is the following short piece. Look what OpenSUSE (funded by Novell) is up to.

Calls for porting Tomboy to Windows (and maybe even Mac OS X), adding geocode filtering to RSS and fully supporting Amazon’s Elastic Cloud 2 are just a few of the ideas put forth in this year’s annual Hack Week.

Tomboy is Mono [1, 2] and it seems like efforts are being diverted into the wrong direction. A year or so ago, Sun (SUNW) changed its ticker/stock symbol to Java (JAVA), symbolising a shift in strategy. Might Novell see .NET (and software patents) as a business strategy rather than pay attention to Free software?

At the moment, points are being raised in the IRC channel about Mono fans slamming Java. Novell is no friend of Java anymore [1, 2, 3, 4], despite it embracing the GNU GPL. A lot of Mono advocacy seems to be arriving from Novell. Bloggers just find it hard to criticise.

In case the roots of Mono need finding, the following new article may be of use.

Like Aaron Seigo, Mr. Harrington also theorizes that Linux users are more tech-savvy and accustomed to the idea of being contributors, and Windows users are conditioned to being passive consumers with only two options for handling problems: yelling, or purchasing a different product. The foundation of Microsoft’s core business plan is eliminating the second option, so Windows users get a lot of yelling practice. So a large influx of Windows users can swamp a FOSS project with demands but no help. Inkscape’s Windows port has a larger userbase than its Linux version

[...]

Which is a point that is always overlooked by the “World Domination At Any Cost” crowd- attracting hordes of Windows and Mac refugees doesn’t necessary benefit FOSS projects, as the KDE4 near-riots demonstrated. The complaining was unbelievable; all those disappointed users behaving like spoiled brats instead of members of a community that depends on community contributions and support.

Could the same observations and lessons be applied to Mono?

“Moonlight is usable for anyone on any distribution of Linux (redhat, ubuntu, etc.) — it is not limited just to Novell as Mono is.”

Brian Goldfarb, Microsoft
[note: Moonlight depends on Mono, emphasis is ours]

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