I’ve been really lucky today: I was trying to decide what to write about in this post and all sorts of ideas crossed my mind ranging from making regular back-ups (yes, my website went down this weekend when I attempted to upgrade Drupal without making a back-up first!) to the recent report by the European Commission into the contribution of free software to the European economy. Then I opened up my newspaper this morning and found that they had a feature entitled What are you optimistic about? and it gave me the inspiration I was looking for! What, in free software, gives you reason to be optimistic?
I can see many reasons to be optimistic about the future of free software, for its continued adoption and growth and also for the spread of its core values and beliefs to other areas of society. The first of these is KDE 4.
I’m just old enough to remember using an Amiga or Windows 3.1 and as far as I can remember their interfaces were, in principle, very similar to what we’re using today. Some people might say “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” but therein lies the problem in my opinion: in many ways it is broken. The way we use our computers has changed and is continuing to change largely as a result of high-speed, always-on internet connections and massively increased computing power; people expect their applications and their hardware to integrate well with each other and with the network—all within one beautiful, and thoughtful, package. This is where KDE 4 comes in. The Plasma project aims to create a stunning desktop environment that is designed with an efficient work flow in mind, and if this means breaking with a few traditions then so be it. The Solid project aims to integrate the elegance of Plasma with your hardware and the network, providing a seamless experience from start to finish. These two are, in my opinion, the centre pieces of KDE 4. And, if they can deliver what they’re promising, we’ve got a lot to look forward to here! I know I haven’t mentioned Phonon or Oxygen, and these two are also very exciting, but I see them more as the icing on the cake. And just in case anyone was wondering just how excited I am about this: I’m an ardent GNOME user at the minute and haven’t touched KDE in over a year!
What else? Well I’ve recently found out that Ubuntu and Fedora are both planning on delivering a method for the easy installation of all those naughty extras—i.e. MP3s, Flash etc. “Hold on a minute!!” I hear you cry, “They’re proprietary!”. Well, yes, they are but there’s no denying that the majority of GNU/Linux users install them anyway because they want to experience the full multimedia brilliance of the internet (or just BBC Radio 4!) and the same is true of many prospective new users. What has to be done, and what Fedora and Ubuntu are apparently planning on doing in their next releases, is find a way to make these easily accessible while at the same time educating people about the political/ideological/philosophical problems behind them. Their apparent plan: to provide a pop-up warning with a brief explanation about why these are “bad” and links to more information; for those who still decide to install them I imagine there to be a button labelled “Go ahead”. This brings us the best of both worlds. People don’t stop using GNU/Linux just because they can’t get their MP3 collection to play and at the same time we educate many more people than we ever would otherwise about the pitfalls of proprietary software.
My last point of optimism is less directly related to free software; it does, however, demonstrate the spreading of an idea I’ve always closely linked with free software: the spirit of community. We’ve seen it in Wikipedia for a while now, and we’re starting to see it emerge in all the social news sites, in people commenting on blogs, basically in what some people call “Web 2.0”. I think this is something we can all only stand to benefit from and something I’m looking forward to seeing develop in the near future.
This list is by no means exhaustive, there are loads more things I’m excited about and maybe I’ll share them in future posts. For now though: over to you! Why not leave comments saying what it is you’re optimistic about for the future of free software and spread a little happiness.