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Slack: It Used to Be a GNU/Linux Distro, Now It's Surveillance Capitalism

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I like "Freedo" (a symbol for freedom) better

Freedo

THE meaning of words can change over time, along with connotations that accompany these words. A little cat, for example, we can no longer call "pussy" and the word "gay" rarely means happy (colloquially). What about "Slack"?

Once upon a time I knew Slack as a solid, freedom-respecting distribution (GNU/Linux distro), whereas nowadays it is something to be stubbornly avoided as it threatens my freedom. It's technically spyware. It is a threat to everybody's freedom because of the network effect. When we use it we participate in a viral campaign of unwanted societal dependency. We help it spread exponentially. Like disease amongst anti-vaxxers. Richard Stallman had spoken about it in the context of Skype long before Microsoft entered the fray/picture. That's just common sense. The requirement of opening a Slack account to interact with other people is like the equivalent of an employer demanding the applicant has a Facebook account (despite all that is known about Facebook's incredible abuses). It can harm our neighbours, colleagues, family and friends as much as it harms ourselves.

As a little bit of background/context/polite remarks on this, I had been writing about Slack (the spyware, not the distro) for several years -- years before the prospects of actually using it. I never ever used it, but I know about it technically, from various angles (not just the shallow, user-centric end). Slack is proprietary at the front end and the back end. Only Slack employees know for sure what it does (and may do in the foreseeable future, as per secret roadmaps). They cannot speak out about it, for fear of retribution (so they're inherently gagged by fear over mortgage etc. or self-restraint that defies logic/ethics). Stallman has long warned about the morality of such circumstances and the ideology they breed. It was recently discovered that Facebook had targeted its critics (a huge number of them), subjecting them to Stasi-like treatment not for any government but for a private corporation, namely Facebook. It had been 'hunting' people using dubious and shallow justifications/pretexts. Nobody has yet been held accountable. Negative press has been the only cost/toll, so they got away with it with barely even a slap on the wrist. Others may imitate them, seeing that there are no fines, no arrests, no sanctions.

A colleague told me several months ago that someone at our company wanted to experiment with Slack; there was no final decision about it, so I assumed it was like our RT/OTRS 'dance' (choice of ticketing system half a decade ago). Sometimes we explore FOSS options/alternatives, which is a good thing! He sent me an invite, but he wasn't assertive about me joining as it was still an experimental thing (as I understood it back then, based on what I was told; I'll come to that in a moment). I thought we would, if it got adopted, still have options (duality). One colleague (at least) wasn't even sent an invite, so I took that as a sign of the adoption's semi-hearted nature (at the time). My colleagues never mentioned it since, except one person (who apparently liked Slack). Another colleague wondered why nobody had told her about it; as if she was left out, but she's happily using Kopete on KDE, so on she went with Jabber.

I've long been writing about Slack, maybe about 15 years (even when the name referred to a Live GNU/Linux distro, well before the name got 'hijacked'; it's Debian-based, it still has regular releases a few months apart, not the same as Slackware despite the names' similarity; BoycottNovell made a Slack-based distro called SUEME Linux 12 years ago); Tux Machines publishes announcements of Slack releases several times a year, but it's always about the distro. It's a European distro with pedigree; but I digress..

Nowadays "Slack" means something different; in a technical context, people no longer recognise it as the distro's name; Slack is now the darling of corporate media; myself and others could never quite explain why (we were rather baffled as it did not seem particularly innovative and we thus attributed most/all the press coverage to good marketing/PR); the name collision also raised legal questions because Slack is a well-known distro and the name is strictly used in the domain of software; it has been used for decades. Now the distro's development team needs to explain to people what came first and how this confusion came about.

OK, so now Slack is enjoying a valuation at $billions (as per very recent news headlines), with IPO rumours floated as well (making it easier to buy/subvert). Slack is relatively new a player/contender; it goes about 3-4 years back (in the mainstream), around the time we were in Alton Towers. I still remember that based on other events. Privacy activists had been warning about it and recently I kept seeing (also publicly writing about) more red flags. Slack, the company, is getting more invasive over time. It's like Facebook. Facebook for business. LinkedIn got picked by Microsoft, along with all that data (NSA PRISM comes to mind). Personal messages, passwords, social graphs, employment records and so on. Even location (picked every 60 seconds or so from one's phone through the 'app'). Same for Skype, which Microsoft added to PRISM just months after buying it (Microsoft was first in PRISM, based on Snowden's leaks -- it was one among the first stories to come out/emanate). Far less opinionated people than myself have blasted Slack for a variety of reasons. Some tweets of mine about it go ~3 years back (warning for 'opinionatedness'... I don't mince words much).

I still remember having to install Skype on an old phone for one company meeting. Back then the mere installation (for one hour, then deleted) meant sending Microsoft entire address books, entire call history and more. This phone of my wife is 7+ years old, so that's a lot of data, going a long way back. That's their business model. I'm usually apprehensive because some of my sources, e.g. for exclusive articles in Techrights (I published my 25,000th article last week in Techrights!), are named in files on my system. I'm no Free software 'purist' per se (I use proprietary drivers sometimes), but "Slack would be the surveillance capitalism competitor to Jabber," to quote something I read yesterday. They digest information, including corporate communications. There's a certain risk associated with this, including competitive risk. As a Free software-based company I think it's important to demonstrate that every piece of proprietary framework can be swapped with FOSS. There are quite a few Slack equivalents that are FOSS; a colleague told me that another colleague had brought some of these up. We might examine these soon, maybe test and adopt these. Time will tell. Maybe I'll write about some of these.

I am also reading about bridges between protocols that enable access to Slack, but yesterday when researching it I found that Slack is gradually burning these bridges/gateways. Not entirely surprising, as once they get to a certain point/market share they up/boost the lockin. Naturally. More so if they have obligations to shareholders. Twitter did this last August, shutting out all third-party apps/APIs for the first time ever (in the company's entire existence). Many of us were devastated because we had built interaction tools, custom-made around these APIs). So, basically, whatever a centralised platform gets adopted, we can always lose control as they can change everything they want at any time. Even, at worst, some company can just buy them for the data; they can start charging a lot, they can shut down, change ToS etc.

The bottom line is, Slack ought to be avoided. It's worse than proprietary because it's all centralised, even the data. There's no concept such as "private" or "privacy". These are only illusions.

Unixstickers

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Unixstickers

Awesome products, will definitely get another bunch of some more stickers soon Smile

GitHub as the Latest Example of Microsoft Entryism in Free/Libre Software

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"This is in effect the very same trick they did/pulled with Novell and SUSE (where Nat Friedman came from after his Microsoft internship) about a decade ago."

Postman

THE recent GitHub takeover, which has not formally been approved just yet (although there are no foreseen barriers to it), is definitely bad news; it is a lot of things to Microsoft however. It is good news only to Microsoft and GitHub shareholders, who basically sold out many developers without rewarding/compensating them for this unwanted (to them) takeover.

There are many aspects to it: First of all, it helps paint Microsoft as "open source" and it helps Microsoft gain leverage over developers, e.g. their choice process of framework/s and licence/s (Microsoft still dislikes copyleft); by leverage over platform they can suggest Azure, for example, or create bindings to it; they gain leverage over projects tied to governments, including some of our clients at work; Microsoft can vainly tell them, i.e. the governments and their developers: "look, you want FOSS? We're FOSS" (so they effectively become their own competitor!). In fact, there's so much more and I could easily name a couple dozen examples, but I know people pursue/need concision here. For an analogy, in politics this concept or strategy is known as "entrism" or "entryism".

Microsoft also uses patents to blackmail FOSS; there's that element too, albeit many people conveniently choose to forget it. Microsoft is sending patents to patent trolls, then offers "Azure IP Advantage". This is in effect the very same trick they did/pulled with Novell and SUSE (where Nat Friedman came from after his Microsoft internship) about a decade ago.

There are many other angles to it, including programming languages, frameworks (e.g. proprietary IDEs like MSVS), code editors and not just bindings to Microsoft as a host and API provider. People, especially developers of software, generally know how E.E.E. works; the basic precondition/premise is that you gain controls/leverage over that which threatens you (Nokia: Elop, Novell: Mono and lots more examples). So that's kind of a way of getting inside, gradually forming a partnership and then shutting down or sidelining whatever threatens you. Like Xamarin did to RoboVM, in effect killing it under Friedman's leadership. Friedman is going to be the chief of GitHub.

Microsoft can direct the opposition's decisions and its fate. Sadly, they already do this inside the Linux Foundation, where Microsoft staff already has chairs in the Board.

From what I can gather, developers ditching GitHub is becoming a fairy common thing this month. I already see the 1) active 2) large 3) non-Windows ones leaving, but it can take time; some told me they still rely on open bug reports and other 'vendor lockin'; that needs some work before they can migrate; the real alternative is self-hosted git.

"Sadly, they already do this inside the Linux Foundation, where Microsoft staff already has chairs in the Board."

In Memoriam: Robin "Roblimo" Miller, a Videographer and Free Software Champion

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Videographer Robin Roblimo Miller

Robin "Roblimo" Miller was a clever, friendly, and very amicable individual who everyone I know has plenty of positive things to say about. I had the pleasure of speaking to him for several hours about anything from personal life and professional views. Miller was a very knowledgeable person whose trade as a journalist and video producer I often envied. I have seen him facing his critics in his capacity as a journalist over a decade ago when he arranged a debate about OOXML (on live radio). Miller, to me, will always be remembered as a strong-minded and investigative journalist who "did the right thing" as the cliché goes, irrespective of financial gain -- something which can sometimes be detrimental to one's longterm health. Miller sacrificed many of his later years to a cause worth fighting for. This is what we ought to remember him for. Miller was - and always will be - a FOSS hero.

May everything you fought for be fulfilled, Mr. Miller. I already miss you.

Orangutans are some of the most solitary animals critically endangered as human consumption grows; Ban Palm oil Industry.

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Orangutan

Orangutans are some of the most solitary animals critically endangered as human consumption grows.

Orangutans are currently only found in the rainforest of Borneo and Sumatra where both species are endangered. The orangutans' habitat has decreased and is rapidly being devastated by loggers, palm oil plantations, gold miners, and unnatural forest fires.

Watching videos of orangutans over hundreds of times is nerve-wracking, seeing them in distress and in great trauma as babies watch their mothers hacked and killed by poachers. They are using their machete which is so inhumane, as many of these infants die without the help of their mother and some other infants are sold as pets, ending in the hands of their 'owner', maltreated and malnourished, making their situation even worse. This happened because of the humongous demand and consumption of humans. Guilt is creeping on me; while enjoying my food and applying all the cosmetics for vanity it is like slaughtering an innocent and beautiful primate slowly and accurately. I wasn't thinking at all; I'm closely blinded of my needs, having never bothered to think that somewhere out there someone is tormented. I can't let this happen any longer. I must act and make a stand and be the voice of orangutans. I'm calling for everyone to ban and stop buying palm oil products. We must stop deforestation and the palm oil industry, strongly and swiftly before orangutans and all other animals sail into extinction.

Beijing Zoo is No Place for Pandas

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Pandas in Beijing Zoo
Photo credit: Nick Hopkins

I am a Panda lover. I work as a support engineer in an I.T company here in the United Kingdom. Most of my spare time is spent watching different Panda videos -- both old and new videos. Basically, it is my therapy; a 'stress release' for me. I find them to be adorable and precious creatures. As a matter of fact, I would like to volunteer to come to Sichuan. I want to experience and feel what it's like to be a Panda keeper, to be able to interact with them for real. The Panda is China's National Treasure, so it's a shame to watch the Panda videos from Beijing zoo, as the place is disgusting and not ideal for Pandas to live in (and for sure for all the rest of the animals who unfortunately got stuck in this prison cell).

The place looks like a ghost town. Lifeless and languished. Knowing that Pandas wear a thick fur on their body, can you imagine what it feels for them in 30C or 35C (summer temperature)? What it probably feels like all the time? Come on, if you really care, you must do something now, otherwise these Pandas will die. Please bring them back to their sanctuary where they really belong.

Winner: Triathlon in The Spa At The Midland

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The Spa At The Midland - Rianne SchestowitzI never thought I could win in a challenge of 3 events.

I guess age is not an excuse for giving up... more so in physical fitness; as the saying goes, health is wealth.... consequently, I'll keep doing my routine and even yoga. It is extremely relaxing!

Motivation, hard work, discipline. By-product is triumph... Smile

GNOME Release Party Manchester

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GNOME Release Party Manchester

Summary: Today's party celebrating the release of GNOME 3.22

RIANNE AND I both attended today's GNOME release party in Manchester. It was a good opportunity to meet some geeky people, including a few from Codethink, which organised this event.

With the latest Kubuntu 15.10 (Wily)

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I love the KDE desktop—I really do. However… here are some grumbles.

Happy Easter and Remarkable Spring

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Happy Easter

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