If you are reading this you probably use free software. In fact, I think the probability that you are reading this article using free software is extremely high, whether it is “free-as-in-speech” as in Firefox, or “free-as-in-beer” as in Internet Explorer. Free software is increasingly being taken for granted and is almost treated as some kind of legal right in some quarters. And so it should be. A lot of people have had to put a great deal of effort into ensuring sufficient “free-as-in-speech” software exists for this to be so.
This “thank you” is dedicated to all of the subscribers who are now reading issue 3 of Free Software Magazine. You have decided that it was worthwhile paying money for Free Software Magazine and have placed your trust in our project.
I appreciate your help, and I promise that we will do our very best to not disappoint.
Venezuela (November 15, 2004 to November 22, 2004)
I spent a week in Venezuela, giving a speech and some interviews at an event which invited speakers from all across Latin America. During the event, the state oil company PDVSA announced its decision to switch 100% to free software. Their decision is not based on convenience or cost; it is based on sovereignty.
During the event, the state oil company PDVSA announced its decision to switch 100% to free software. Their decision is not based on convenience or cost; it is based on sovereignty
We have written this manifesto always wishing to unfold the concept and practice of free/libre and open-source. We wanted it to stretch out so that it might take us in new directions. To start off with, we were sure that the practice of non-proprietary software code production was not a narrowly technical or economic affair, but something that was always also socio-political.
It is a common assumption that companies who distribute free software will promote it, leaving the community to concentrate on the meat of the project itself (including code, documentation, graphics, and so on). But this is untrue; companies generally devote few resources and little expertise, leaving communities to fend for themselves in the big scary world of media and marketing.
In this article, I respond to Robert McHenry’s anti-Wikipedia piece entitled “The Faith-Based Encyclopedia.” I argue that McHenry’s points are contradictory and incoherent and that his rhetoric is selective, dishonest and misleading. I also consider McHenry’s points in the context of all Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP), showing how they are part of a Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) campaign against CBPP.
Free software, also known as open source, libre software, FOSS, FLOSS and even LOSS, relies on traditional software legal protection, with a twist. Semantics aside (I will describe all the above as “free software”), the tradition at law is that free software is copyrighted, like most other software, and is not released, unbridled, to the public domain. Authorial or ownership rights can be asserted as with any bit of proprietary software.
The $3.6 billion worldwide market for IT management software is ripe for competition from free software. Leading products from HP, CA, BMC and IBM are overkill for the vast majority of the market. Licensing costs can reach seven figures, and deployment and system administration costs are several times that. Not to mention that these products are widely known to be inflexible, monolithic and difficult to use.
Being a “computer person” these days is a very stressful business. Forget about angry customers, missed deadlines, unreasonable bosses and co-workers, shrinking wages, etc. Those are just things you get used to after a while.
In October of 2000, web-savvy math students lost a critical education tool. MathWorld, an online encyclopedia of mathematics, vanished from the web leaving students, educators, and mathematicians with only a notice that legal problems had caused the shutdown.
Bolivia (La Paz) (August 12, 2004 to August 17, 2004)
I am now visiting La Paz, Bolivia. The city is on the edge of the altiplano, starting on the plain at 13000 feet and running down through a connected series of valleys. The result is amazing beauty. Traveling between neighborhoods often means seeing marvelous vistas. The snow-capped mountain Illimani can also be seen from much of the city.
Maybe it’s true that a “Rose by any other name still smells as sweet,” but not being able to easily pronounce the name of software is a big turn off to exploring it.
That’s true whether the name of your word processing program is “Espronceda” or “Microsoft Word” or “OpenOffice.org Writer”.
Real programmers love their applications’ source code: the faster and more elegant it is, the better. Users are after very different things: they seem to want simplicity, flashy colors, nice icons and tons of options. In spite of these reasons, or perhaps because of them, programmers and users often forget what lies in the middle of it all: information.
Who owns the information?
So far, proprietary formats have been maintained through a number of short-term tricks, but the advantages of free formats become clearer in the long run. Business and the computer industry have tended to be very shortsighted. However there are some important classes of technically proficient users with a much longer outlook, whose needs can only be met by free file formats. If we in the free software community want to see free formats take hold, we need to address the needs of these users.
GNU/Linux is growing all the time: new software is being created; new copies downloaded or bought; new users are discovering free software for the first time. With this growth we have seen the rise of polished distributions, sales-minded distributors, “XX” software is being released, and so free software is gaining commercial success in many fields. Even governments, from Peru to the UK, are now racing to use free software. But governments seem to be the only ones who are talking about switching specifically because they want free software, not just stable, secure and powerful software.
The content industries have conspicuously failed to create a business model based on paid content over public IP networks, but still cling to the idea that those networks were created for just that use. Any software or system which might interfere with this theoretical paid content business is considered not just heretical, but probably criminal. The music and movie consortia have turned the transition to network distribution into a “with us or against us” battleground, with most of their customers fighting for the wrong side.
RIAA, copyright and file sharing
The concept of the commons has a long heritage. The Romans distinguished between different categories of property, these were: Firstly, res privatæ, which consisted of things capable of being possessed by an individual or family. The second, res publicæ, which consisted of things built and set aside for public use by the state, such as public buildings and roads. The third, res communes, which consisted of natural things used by all, such as the air, water and wild animals.
Mythic Beasts is a UK company that provides Unix shells to their users. They offer fantastic service to people who need a shell account on a very fast server, and don’t want to fork out silly amounts of money. Let’s talk to Chris Lightfoot, one of the company’s owners.
TM: Who is behind “Mythic Beasts”? How did everything start?
The Apple machines of the 80’s turned computers from dull counting machines and glorified typewriters into creative tools, forcing a revolution in the design, publishing and music industries through accessibility and mass participation. If you wanted to produce—let’s say—a magazine in those days, all of a sudden you didn’t need a lot of money, you didn’t need to have a particular job or be a member of the union, and you didn’t even need to have served an apprenticeship or have been to college.
This magazine was inspired by a conversation I had with a great friend of mine called Massimo. I said to Massimo “I think it would be great to start a magazine. It’s my ideal job, and I think I know what the world needs right now. It’s a pity there’s no money in publishing, and I’m not willing to run a magazine that doesn’t pay it’s contributors well...”. His answer was very simple: “Tony, there’s money everywhere, as long as you do something good and promote it well”. Well, seeing that he has a successful business, I thought I would listen.