POSTSCRIPT / December 7, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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House display of naked power makes us cringe

IT’S SAD: The nation saw Tuesday night what kind of congressmen dominate the House. These are the same power-crazed politicians who want to install themselves in that Parliament they are bent on creating

In the debate, where do we, the people, come in? Nowhere. Democracy has become illusory.

The so-called representatives running the House do not really represent their constituents. Instead, many of them represent their own greed and the interests of the vested groups bribing them to do their bidding.

Don’t delude yourself that, anyway, we can stop the railroading of constitutional revisions when it is time to submit them to a plebiscite. Don’t bank on that. The fraudulent electoral process will only validate the dubious Charter changes.

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CREDIT CARDS: I was swamped with reactions, most of them complaints, to my Postscript item on cash or tag price being padded illegally when buyers use their credit cards. Here are some of them:

Dr. Merle F. Adaza, chair, Philippine Mental Health Association, CDO-Mis. Or. Chapter — Last Dec.3, I was a victim of a violation of Article 81 of the Consumer Act. I was not able to use my BPI Mastercard when I bought two electric fans in SM Applicance Center, Cagayan de Oro City. The salesmen and saleslady were convincing enough of their offer of a 3-percent discount. I handed them my credit card, but to my dismay the saleslady came back to inform me that the discount was not applicable to credit card payments, that it could only be availed of by a cash purchase. Had I been aware of this law, I would have asserted my right to use my credit card.

Jimmy B. Cuyco, 1729 Milagros St., Sta. Cruz, Manila — We are very glad about the law on credit card surcharges. Implementation is another problem. Some shops/merchants verbally offer discounts for cash payments. Thus, it is possible that the surcharges were already included in the tag price or in the service charge estimate. The tag price law is not 100-percent implemented as there are many shops/merchants that do not have tag prices. If we encounter such problem, what do we need to do? There must be strict implementation of the law.

Peter J. Ritter, fastmail.i-next.net — I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation why credit card charges should not be allowed to be added to the retail price. Assume charges from credit card companies are legal in the first place — if they are not, pick your fight with them — who is the government to impose to retailers how to calculate prices? If a customer chooses to have his purchase delivered, it is understood that the retailer would add a charge to cover the extra cost. Who would prohibit that? Then why prohibit the adding of credit card charges if a customer chooses that more expensive mode of purchase? Why single out a credit card charge for prohibition when it is as real and extra as a delivery charge? What business does government have to arbitrarily tell business how to do business?

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FOSS ISSUES: Some readers asked for more information on Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) so, they said, they can appreciate better the discussion in Postscript of the FOSS bill in Congress directing the government to shift to free/open software.

There is an entire library on this. To simplify, I fell back on Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that gives brief explanations of popular terms. Printed below is my boiling down of what it said about open-source software.

Open-source software is computer software whose source code (the program written in computer language) is available under a copyright license that permits users to study and modify the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form.

In this regard, FOSS is in contrast to common commercial software — such as those of Microsoft — whose license forbids their unauthorized copying, modifying and redistributing.

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FREE/OPEN: In 1998, a group advocated that the term “free software” be replaced by “open-source software” (OSS), which it said was clearer and more comfortable for the corporate world.

Open-source software generally allows anybody to rewrite it, adapt it to any operating system and processor, and share it with others or market it.

The Free Software Foundation has clarified that the word “free” is used to mean “free as in free speech” and not “free as in free beer.”

But there is still confusion between open source and free software. Since a great deal of free software is free of charge, such free software has become associated with zero cost.

The FOSS bill sponsored by Rep. Teodoro Casino (Bayan Muna) mandates government agencies and state-run corporations to replace their commercial software with FOSS when the latter is available (which I think is always the case).

My stand, I repeat, is that the use of any software — whether FOSS or commercial — should be left to the discretion of the user and not mandated or forced upon users by legislation. Let the user judge the superiority of one software over another.

After all, the FOSS bill rides on the principle of freedom of choice.

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NOT TO WORRY: Among the early reactions to the FOSS bill came from reader Roberto Verzola of gn.apc.org. He said in part:

“I’m not in favor of some parts of the Casino bill myself, but I think the idea is good. I happen to be a Linux user, and therefore am familiar with the advantages (and disadvantages) of FOSS.

“The Linux UI is close enough to Windows, that the shift is actually less jarring than the DOS to Windows shift. When Microsoft introduces Vista and stops supporting Windows XP, we will all be forced to learn a new UI anyway, why not learn the Linux/FOSS UI instead?

“I have problems with some of the wordings in the Casino bill myself, because it uses very strong language. But I guess that’s because the author was expecting later versions to be watered down. What many of us really advocate is for Linux/FOSS to be the government’s DEFAULT system.

“Defaults in software do not really take away your options, they just make sure that you start with a reasonable value. Say your word processor starts with Arial 12 as default. You can always change that to Times 11, if you like. With software, we want the government to buy machines that come installed with Linux/FOSS as default. Then offices who want commercial software (and spend our tax money) should JUSTIFY it, and show that no free equivalent exists.

“You said users of commercial software buy ‘time-tested technology backed by warranty and technical support.’ Linux (because it is based on Unix) has been tested for even a longer time than Windows. Windows, please note, gives no warranty at all, as the license itself says.

“On interoperability. FOSS operating systems now come in ‘live CD’ versions. This means they will boot and run straight from the CD, without being installed in your hard disk. The best I’ve seen is called Knoppix (a variant of Linux). The Knoppix live CD comes complete with an Office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software) and an Internet suite (browser, email, chat, etc.) which look very similar to their Microsoft counterparts.

“Of course, Linux/FOSS will never be 100 percent compatible with Microsoft, because MS tends to make changes to its software to make sure it is NOT compatible with its competitors. (This is how they put IBM’s OS/2 and Digital’s DR-DOS out of business.) But neither is Windows 95 completely compatible with Windows XP, and I would presume less so with Vista, the up and coming Microsoft OS.

“On being ‘technology-neutral.’ FOSS is often misunderstood (or misrepresented) as a technology. It is not. FOSS is about retaining a bundle of rights — the right to use, to share, and to modify the software. The FOSS bills basically says, ‘the government should, as a default, use software which the government can freely copy and modify without restrictions,’”

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TRY LINUX: Reader Wilfredo Diaz of gmail.com says:

“There are lots of people and organizations/institutions that are creating excellent software and giving them away for free.

“There is this gnu.org that spearheads free software society whose preamble reads:

“‘The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software — to make sure the software is free for all its users.’

“The Department of Science and Technology has created Bayanihan Linux http://www.bayanihan.gov.ph/ as a free substitute for Windows XP and servers. It can do every thing Windows can do, except there are not many games made for it.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 7, 2006)

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