As seen on Slashdot:

Adobe uses a proprietary encrypted communications system between their Flash player and their Media Server product. This is intended to ensure that only people who pay for Flash Media Server can stream Flash movies, and only official clients can access them.

In other words, it’s a copy protection (DRM) scam. It’s completely antithetical to the goals of running a free software desktop or serving content to users using free software. However, despite Adobe’s claims, it doesn’t actually provide any security except through the obscurity of the protocol and some short secret keys.

lkcl claims to have created an open source, clean-room implementation of this protocol, called RTMPE, and published it on Sourceforge. Despite promising in January to open RTMP, Adobe wants to protect their revenue stream, so they sent a DMCA takedown notice to Sourceforge, who complied by censoring the project.

If you value your freedom to publish and receive Flash videos using free software, help us fight Adobe and embarrass SourceForge by nominating rtmpdump for “Best Project for Multimedia” in the SourceForge Community Choice awards.

If you just want to download it, here are some handy links now that it’s been censored by SourceForge: LKCL mininova/TOR.

Live CDs are great. In particular, they’re a great way to try out software, knowing that the chances of damaging the host system are minimal and you can throw away the entire system if you want to.

Sometimes you want to use a live CD environment without a CD. CDs are slow, get lost and scratched, and require a CD drive. If you’re going to use live environments a lot, you’d probably prefer to boot them over the network from a machine with a hard disk and a cache.

Luckily, Ubuntu’s live CD includes all the necessary support to do this easily, if you know how to use it. Unfortunately, it’s not really documented as far as I can tell. Please correct me if I’m wrong about this.

I managed to make the live CD boot over the network on a PXE client using the following steps.

  • set your DHCP server up to hand off to a TFTP server. For example, add the following lines to your subnet definition in /etc/dhcp3/dhcpd.conf:
  • next-server;
    filename "pxelinux.0";
  • get a copy of pxelinux.0 from the pxelinux package and put it in the tftproot of your TFTP server.
  • copy the casper directory off the CD and put it into your tftproot as well.
  • get an NFS server on your network to loopback-mount the Desktop ISO (e.g. ubuntu-8.04.2-desktop-i386.iso) and export the mount directory through NFS. Let’s say your NFS server is and the ISO is mounted at /var/nfs/ubuntu/live. Edit /etc/exports on the server and export the mount directory to the world by adding the following line:
  • /var/nfs/ubuntu/live *(ro,all_squash,no_subtree_check)
  • put the following section into your tftproot/pxelinux.cfg/default file:
  • DEFAULT live-804
    LABEL live-804
      kernel casper/vmlinuz
      append file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper initrd=ubuntu/ubuntu-8-04/casper/initrd.gz netboot=nfs nfsroot= quiet splash --
  • test that the PXE client boots into the live CD environment
  • if it doesn’t, remove the “quiet splash” from the end of the “append” line and boot it again, to see where it gets stuck.

I hope this helps someone, and that NFS-booting a live environment will be properly documented (better than this!) one day.

(Also filed on Ubuntu bug 296089.)

Fouad Bajwa writes of an unusual deal between the Pakistani government and Microsoft, on the s-asia-it mailing list:

To all members of the IT Industry & Technical Community,

Everyone is well aware that global financial recession has hit even the Tech Giants where companies like Microsoft and Intel have being saying goodbye to thousands of their employees. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting better but interestingly our Pakistani National ICT R&D Fund is thinking about helping Microsoft in Pakistan and we from the industry feel that it is sad that instead of supporting local Hi-Tech Start-ups and struggling IT Entrepreneurs [they are]  funding the usual “Non-Useful” activities like conferences [and] so-called accelerator programs for Pakistan…

To be fair, they have funded a number of open source projects, and funding for conferences and other networking activities is always in short supply for those without a significant marketing budget.

I have come to know through my friends in the IT Industry that the National ICT R&D Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft to fund the Microsoft Developers Conference and something called an “Innovators Accelerator Program”. The funds haven’t been disbursed yet but it definitely annoys me and many of my friends in the IT industry that our government should fund Microsoft initiatives which is already a global giant. I have heard that around 5 million rupees [about USD 60,000] or thereabouts for the innovation accelerator program which will involve Microsoft training, entrepreneurship training and connecting with Microsoft partners and similar amounts related.

I also find it strange that Pakistan would choose it invest money in Microsoft at this time, despite their obvious experience and competence with open source. Others come to the Fund’s defence, saying:

ICT R&D Fund is one of the few institutions in the country that are doing an excellent job… [it] is the role of a funding agency to encourage collaborations for promoting research cultures and provide help in bringing the best minds closer.

But nobody has denied that the Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft, or argued for its benefit to Pakistan. Fouad also writes:

When will our national institutions support its people, the vulnerable, not the already empowered? Why doesn’t it support the local entrepreneurs, the ones that don’t have large companies or university backings? Why does it have liabilities to include universities whereas it knows what the state of R&D in universities has been except for a few handful? Why doesn’t it include this money for Social Enterprise and created a NATIONAL INCUBATION AND ACCELERATION CENTRE where people like me or you or anyone can walk in and build their ideas and companies?

Ashiq Anjum replies that “No funding agency can build incubators for industry, probably this is outside of their scope.” But the Fund’s stated goal is “To transform Pakistan’s economy into a knowledge based economy by promoting efficient, sustainable and effective ICT initiatives through synergic development of industrial and academic resources.”

It sounds entirely reasonable on this basis for them to assist university graduates in gaining skills that are useful in the knowledge industry, and in setting up their own companies in the knowledge industry. Indeed, another stated goal is to “make Pakistan an attractive destination for service oriented and research and development related outsourced jobs.”

We can establish centres like
and help local entrepreneurs in business development and social innovation with the same amount of money[.] That helps and benefits our people and companies directly as well as innovate for local and international markets.

I agree that all countries should support local development, training and entrepreneurship as much as possible.

Open source in Government

February 17, 2009

The Register has an interesting article about various open source vendors’ latest attempt to legislate their way into the healthcare system, and why it’s doomed to fail.

I found it well-written and convincing right up to the last
paragraph but one:

If open source is going to make any real headway in the government, there needs to be an incentive to choose it, not a rule. Time and again, this is where the open source community falls short: Quality code isn’t enough of an incentive. You can put the best engineering in the world
into your product, but if you don’t know how to market, your project will rot in the source repository.

Uhh, non sequitur? Needs to be an incentive to choose it => needs better marketing? Where’s the incentive in marketing? Surely the incentive should be that it’s a better product or that it saves money or time, not that it has flashing lights all over it?