Microsoft turn to free software? That'll be the day. Some have suggested that Microsoft might embrace free software and thus resolve the present conflict. That actually would be a terrific strategy for them, but I don't think that Microsoft is smart enough to do it.
In a recent interview with the British Sunday Observer, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, claimed that "it's the next billion [internet users] who will change the way we think". Such a big claim deserves some critical house room. Will the internet really change the way we think? Or are we just getting carried away?
There has always been a section of the free software community which has an anti-Microsoft agenda. It's almost like their mission statement is "It's not over until Microsoft is dead". Certainly there is a lot of feeling that if Microsoft went away, a lot of our problem would be over. But do Microsoft even need to "lose"; is there even a battle to be fought and if so what would constitute winning it?
The Google App Engine doesn't really advance the cause of evil all that much, but it's not exactly good, either. Google makes a big deal about its corporate motto, "Don't be evil", but at the end of the day, Google really is just another corporation, no matter how well-intentioned its founders may have been. Regardless of whether the corporation holding the carrot is called "Microsoft" or "Google", developers should think long and hard before following the primrose path towards lock-in to non-standard designs.
Today evening (15th April, 2008) a candle light vigil/protest was organised at the Town Hall, Bangalore, India to observe Document freedom and also to apply pressure on the Indian Govt. to file an appeal with the ISO regarding the passing of OOXML amid serious irregularities. The vigil was organised by the Free Software Users Group, Bangalore and was attended by Engineering college students, IT profesionals and even members from a local slum computer training centre. This is just the beginning as more serious and sustained activities are being planned.
As some of you already know, I am the main developer for Drigg. I donated probably more than 1000 hours of my life to the Drigg project, because I believed in it. After reviewing existing CMSs out there, I believe that Drigg is the best system available today for people who want to create Digg-like sites (but, in fact, when people deploy Drigg they get fully functional Drupal sites...!). You can see my contributions to Drigg daily. One more programmer has joined Drigg, which is going right ahead.
However, Drigg's community is still smaller than Pligg, its main competitor. Why?
Why it should be a lot more about feeling, rather than knowing, that free software and free culture is right.
Over the last ten years or so, free software has grown from being just a geek-phenomena. GNU/Linux has become a serious force in the business and server market with major companies now throwing their weight behind it. But on the consumer side of the market, things look still quite a bit different. Although GNU/Linux adoption has made some progress on the desktop too, it's still largely absent, Windows comes pre-installed on almost all new machines sold and you see even die-hard free software advocates using Mac OS X on their personal machine. Why is that?
Unless a small miracle happens, OOXML is a standard. What's next?
(I withheld the release of this video in Free Software Magazine until I managed, with the help of a fantastic community member, to make it available in OGG format and in embedded video format. Thank you Michael Fötsch!)
I have been saying this for many years: free software must not be associated with an ideology or political party. Doing that would:
- be an utter falsity;
- damage our ability to advocate.
I am not the only one with this opinion! As you may know, we'll have elections in Italy next Sunday and Monday, and the Italian Association for Free Software is now promoting two remarkable initiatives.
Language and lock-in
One of the favorite arguments for free software is that it avoids lock-in to a particular manufacturer's products. Something similar happens due to choice of programming language, though, which accounts for the sometimes-baffling project rivalries in the free software world. While this may be a surprising result to end users, it makes a lot of sense if you think about how developers—especially free-software developers—work. Occasionally, you hear complaints about these "divisions" of the free software world, but is this really a bad thing?
I'll admit it. I fell hook, line and sinker for Google's "We do No Evil" claim. I loved Google.com. I host my email accounts on Google using the hosted domains service. I use blogger.com for my tech blog. Google was my home page.
So what changed? I started to sense something wrong a few months ago when I started watching the ads in GMail. They're reading my mail. That's not a revelation of course. Everyone knows that. But the reality of it hit me like a ton of bricks. Some bot in the kingdom of Google is reading my mail and targeting ads directly at me.
There are companies we love and respect. Google is one of them. Regardless of their mistakes, their jet, their priorities in terms of software releases, there is an "innate" trust.
But, is it safe to trust Google?
I am asking this because I got burned. Not by Google, but by Virgin Mobile Australia.
Recently, in this column, I spoke about how we can lose our free software choices if we don't use them. Sticking with that choice is not always easy so how do we get others to make it, particularly in a world where the choice is often made for them. How can we advocate free software in a world where others don't seem to care?
I thought a long time on your comments you made here trying to find something to refute your points. I am generally someone who thinks that people need to understand the "why" behind what they do. So someone that uses free software should understand that the point in do doing so is for freedom. Stallman has said that if no one was told about freedom that in ten years we probably wouldn't have it anymore. I tend to agree with that sentiment.
Let's face it: GNU/Linux software is not always easy to use. Especially command line software (at least the GUI programs have buttons and tooltips). Sometimes, the program will have a manual or some documentation at its homepage, but that is not always the case. The solution? The magical
Look through a list available packages for any free OS and you'll find a sometimes bewildering choice of browsers, mail readers, editors, desktops and tetris-clones available. Despite this many will just blindly install the first one they've heard of. Is this a good policy? What good is all this choice if we don't use it and what are those choices?
Note: please see the bottom of this post for a list of free software alternatives available now!
Proprietary culture dumps a lot of disappointing experiences on me. I really had this brought home to me by a couple of toys my daughter received for Christmas this year, which just refused to work with our family's Debian-based computers, and I have to wonder: what are these experiences teaching our children?
In this video, I try to answer the question "What is the free software community?" Comments, or even community posts in response to this, are most welcome!
Note: you will need a flash player to see this video. We are examining options. If you have success using Gnash, or know of a video service that is more free software friendly, please let us know!
During Clinton's successful 1992 campaign James Carville hung a sign in their headquarters with the following three points:
- Change vs. more of the same
- The economy, stupid
- Don't forget health care.
He was attempting to counter Clinton's inclination to offer solutions to any and every topic he encountered. I know I have a similar tendency, and it comes into play when I attempt free software advocacy. As a result I've been working on my own version. My sign looks like this:
- Change vs. more of the same
- The data, stupid
- Don't forget the excluded.