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Brave GNU World - Issue #43
Copyright © 2002 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

[CN | DE | EN | FR | IT | JA | ES | KO | PT | ZH]

Welcome to another issue of the Brave GNU World; this time with a variety of topics from different areas.

KDE en_GB

John Knight pointed the "KDE en_GB" project out to me, of which he is the initiator and coordinator. Goal of the project is to provide a British English (en_GB) localization for the well-known K Desktop Environment (KDE).

Many people value "their" English and (as in this case) do not feel comfortable with the far-spread American English. This project allows them to choose their favorite English.

It also offers advantages for the educational field, because in some countries, British English is the authoritative form and pupils using only seeing American English on their computers might develop problems with their own language.

Therefore John believes that as one of the major results of his project, KDE will experience an advantage in schools and universities of Great Britainy, Australia and other former members of the British Empire.

John himself happens to be Australian and started the project about 1.5 years ago because - according to his own sentiment - he used to be overly pedantic and wanted to put that to good use.

Together with Malcolm Hunter (England), Dwayne Bailey (South Africa), Aston Clulow (Australia) and Ken Knight, his twin brother, John is trying to keep the translation as up-to-date as possible, because ongoing development provides a permanently changing basis. This is one of the main difficulties the project is facing.

Other problems arise from programmers writing mixtures of British and American English; also sometimes Americanisms are overlooked by the translators. Therefore, additional pairs of eyes are always welcome.

By the way: It appears that contact with Will Stephenson, another volunteer, was lost because his email address does not seem to work. If Will Stephenson reads this: John asks you to get in touch with him.

Also John would like to encourage the large distributions to support the project more, since some of them require installing the package by hand.

Within the project, a list of all English-speaking countries has been created, which lists the preferred form of English within a country. Even if it is not complete, it could certainly be interesting for distributors to optimize the automatic customization.

And finally the work of Dwayne should be mentioned. He is being financed by the South African government to create modules for all 11 languages spoken in South Africa - when John spoke to him last, he was busy with Xhosa and Zulu.

The freedom of doing such projects is truly invaluable and cannot be put into monetary terms; it is clearly a major argument for Free Software. Also it shows that Free Software not only encourages cultural diversity between countries, it also strengthens cultural diversity within a country.

As usual within the KDE project, the work of the translation teams is also published under the terms of the GNU General Public License and if you are interested in more information about translations of KDE, you should take a look at the KDE home page for translators and documentation writers. [5]

This is also where new translators can find information and new translations can be started. It would certainly be interesting to have translations into some of the German dialects, "Platt" for instance. Should someone be working on this, please let me know. [1]

JMail

JMail [6] is an email program written in Java by Yvan Norsa and published under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Originally started as homework for school, JMail has turned out to be a rather complete email client with LDAP support that can be used on all platforms supporting Java. This makes it particularly interesting for everyone having to work on different platforms.

Despite the GPL-license, the project is of course notably encumbered as Free Software, since it requires a proprietary Java environment, making the user dependant on them. This well-known Java problem has not been solved completely still.

For further development, Yvan plans reimplementing some parts with code that he feels is unsatisfactory, as well as introducing local folders and thread support. Also the profile files will be changed From plain text to XML.

At the moment JMail supports English and French; help by translators for other languages than English and French, as well as help by proofreaders for the English version would be very welcome.

But even more importantly than translators are more users giving feedback and bug reports to help Yvan reaching version 1.0, which he would like to release towards the end of this summer.

Speex

One of the areas most encumbered by the existance of software patents is digital compression of voice audio files, which provides the basis for internet telephony ("Voice over IP;" VoIP), audio books, internet radio, voice mail and other future applications.

Since Free Software is not compatible with a monopolizing system, a Free Software implementation of patented algorithms can only be done under very special circumstances, which are not met in this area. Users of Free Software are therefore left with few choices nowadays, which either means low quality and/or low compression rate or encodings that were optimized for music, like Ogg-Vorbis. [7]

With Speex, [8] a recent addition to the GNU Project, Jean-Marc Valin is working on a Free Software solution unencumbered by software patents. He is being supported in this task by David Rowe and Steve Underwood, as well as several people helping investigate patents to ensure Speex does not violate them.

Having been started in February 2002, the project is written entirely in ANSI C to keep it as portable as possible and published under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) to maintain interoperability with proprietary software.

As the project is still in a relatively young development phase, the file and stream format often changing from version to version - stabilizing this is one of the most important tasks at hand.

Despite this difficulty, there are already first applications of Speex - for example Linphone [9] by Simon Morlat, an internet telephony program for GNU/Linux, which is also building upon the GNU oSIP library introduced in issue #39. [10]

The most severe problem for Speex development are software patents, though. They require permanent attention to check whether patents are being violated and how they can be circumvented. This provides a significant roadblock to innovation and help for this is very much welcome.

Depending on the perspective, some could consider the unsatisfactoy music-encoding-capabilities of Speex a disadvantage; but for this purpose there is Ogg-Vorbis, to which Speex seeks to provide a supplemental, not a replacement.

Besides the patent problems, there are also other issues you can support Speex development with. Developers with a background in digital signal processing (DSP) are sought for quality improvement and help would also be useful for the API and the encoder/decoder.

Similar to many young projects, Speex also is lacking in documentation, as the developers sadly admit. So there are many possibilities to participate.

As a side note, Jean-Marc would like to see pointed out that being member of the University of Sherbrooke does not put him into a conflict of interests although the university is notorious for holding software patents on speech coding.

Although he made his masters degree in that group, he is now working on his Ph.D. in the group for mobile robotics, which gives him freedom when working on speech coding.

It is a rather sad statement for the future of science that such a disclaimer is necessary nowadays.

Software patents

As the previous feature shows, software patents have a very immediate effect on some projects and we have to fear that this will spread further. By now, many people have heard about the software patent problem - also thanks to the untiring work of people like Hartmut Pilch and Jean-Paul Smets.

But it seems there is still a lot of wrong ideas and confusion around this topic - especially with decision makers and politicians, because otherwise some statements become incomprehensible.

In issue #5 [11] of the Brave GNU World, the attempt was made to point out the problem technically, but maybe it is time to view it more from a macro-economical perspective.

As examples in the United States show, [12] the actual effect of software patents is introducing a mechanism which allows larger companies to raise or lower their thumb, deciding about life or death of innovative ideas and companies. They provide a carte blanche to force anyone into legal struggles that are usually survived by the larger company.

The creation of software patents and the legal struggles about software patents both require patent lawyers. And in Europe the patent approving instance, the European Patent Office, is neither democratically controlled nor is it responsible for approved patents. This makes software patents the gold donkey for patent lawyers and the patent office.

Software patents can be created in almost any number, do not require a connection to reality and their only purpose is to start legal struggles.

But software patents do not only provide an efficient obstacle to innovation, they also force companies to spend large sums on patent lawyers and fees and make it necessary to maintain much larger "war chests" for legal struggles.

Therefore software patents weaken innovation and the economic situation by introducing a kind of artificial friction loss which subsidizes part of the legal system.

This is supported by practical experience as well as theoretical studies, because until today there is no proof that software patents are beneficial for society, but there are many facts showing their harmful effects.

It should be allowed to raise the question whether the group of patent offices and patent lawyers needs such a subsidy financed by the overall economic situation.

For those who would like to get deeper into the topic, the material collected by the FFII [13] is recommended. Also I ask everybody to support the petition for a software patent free Europe [14] and write letters to the editor to the mainstream press, asking them to address this topic.

polyXmass

Filippo Rusconi of the "Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique" (CNRS) has published polyXmass, [15] a program for mass spectrometry simulation, as Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL) with support of his university.

The project aims at providing a modular framework which allows the user to define new polymer chemistries, build them into sequences and perform sophisticated computations on them that simulate chemical reactions in order to create a simulated mass spectrogram reflecting all the previous steps.

The program was written in C with the Gtk+ toolkit and its target audience would be users of mass spectrometers, especially chemists, biochemists and students. And far as the author knows, there are no comparable projects.

In the eyes of Filippo Rusconi, polyXmass has many strengths. It is very versatile when defining polymers, incredibly flexible in displaying sequences, allowing users to draw the "letters" of the "alphabet" themselves, as well as very quick in chemical computations.

Since XML is used to save polymer definitions and sequences, all data exists as ASCII and can be edited by hand or imported into own programs.

The project was born out of the wish to move to GNU/Linux, because originally Filippo had written a program called massXpert under Windows, which allowed calculation of proteins only. Instead of simply porting that program, he reimplemented it in a way that would allow working with all polymers, which would be defined by the user. PolyXmass is this reimplementation.

But development on the program is not "closed." When a colleague recently sketched some complicated formulas on a piece of paper, which required Filippo to to compute masses in a rather tricky way, he wrote a sophisticated molecular calculator for polyXmass and called it polyXcalc. So it is a very lively project that is already very useful to many users as the feedback shows.

For the future it is planned to make the program more modular, possibly through CORBA/Orbit code, but these plans have not yet solidified. If you would like to contribute, you're surely welcome.

DotGNU Forum

The DotGNU Forum project [16] is part of the DotGNU project, [17] which aims at creating an "operating system for the internet" and a Free alternative to Microsofts .NET initiative, since the latter currently threatens the freedom of users.

The goal of DotGNU Forum is establishing a platform which allows multiple users to simultaneously work on data together through communication channels such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Instant Messaging (IM), Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), USENET or HTTP.

The DotGNU Forum server also provides "plazas," virtual meeting points which may contain data or applications relevant for certain topics. Users can meet in these and work together on a project.

For this the DotGNU Forum provides several means of communication, like documentation browser, download server, message boards and an integrated chat system.

DotGNU Forum was written in C# and it is possible to write extensions in other languages supported by DotGNU.

According to Peter Minten, author of DotGNU Forum, one of the major advantages of his project is its client-server based design philosophy, which tries to keep the server as small and stable as possible. Also the extensibility is one reason why he believes people should consider using DotGNU Forum.

The idea for the project evolved out of some first thoughts about virtual universities and class rooms, which has been generalized to virtual places. In reference to the ancient romans, where the forum was a center of communication and activity, the project was then dubbed DotGNU Forum.

Right now the server still requires some work before the first applications can be written and help is very welcome for writing code and documentation.

For the not-so-close future, Peter envisions 3D-forums in which people can see each other virtually and talk to each other through Voice over IP (VoIP). But until this becomes possible, it'll certainly be a while.

As the next steps, it is rather planned to support EMACS and other editors as input interfaces for the forum.

Oh, and as a part of the GNU Project, DotGNU Forum is naturally released under the GNU General Public License.

Until next month

That should be enough for this month. As usual please feel encouraged to provide questions, ideas, feedback, comments and news about interesting projects by mailing them to the usual address. [1]

Info
[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <column@brave-gnu-world.org>
[2] Home page of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
[3] Home page of Georg's Brave GNU World http://brave-gnu-world.org
[4] "We run GNU" initiative http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/rungnu/rungnu.en.html
[5] KDE internationalization home page http://www.i18n.kde.org
[6] JMail home page http://www.ultim8team.com/~nono/html_en/index.htm
[7] Ogg-Vorbis home page http://www.xiph.org/ogg/vorbis/
[8] Speex home page http://speex.sourceforge.net
[9] Linphone home page http://www.linphone.org
[10] Brave GNU World issue #39 http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/issue-39.en.html
[11] Brave GNU World issue #5 http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/issue-5.en.html
[12] Gary L. Reback, "Patently Absurd", Forbes Magazine http://www.forbes.com/asap/2002/0624/044.html
[13] FFII home page http://www.ffii.org
[14] Petition for a Software Patent Free Europe http://www.noepatents.org
[15] polyXmass home page http://www.polyxmass.org
[16] DotGNU Forum project page http://savannah.gnu.org/projects/dotgnu-forum/
[17] DotGNU home page http://www.dotgnu.org

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Copyright (C) 2002 Georg C. F. Greve

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Last modified: Mon Aug 12 13:22:55 CEST 2002