This book is a bit of a departure for my Free Software Magazine book reviews, it's a philosophical and social essay by science-fiction writer David Brin, and it's over 13 years old (published in 1998). But as I am reading this now, I'm struck by how prophetic this book is towards events that are going on in the world today.
Last year, as I was checking the licensing and attribution on the tracks in my soundtrack library for Lunatics, I came across a bizarre and rather disturbing practice: bait and switch licensing as a ploy to sell music. This is a truly weird idea, if you understand what a free-license means, and it's deeply unethical, but here's what I think is going on: the artist (or more likely, some intermediary, such as a small record label) gets the idea of using a "free" loss-leader to try to draw people into buying a commercial/proprietary album.
In the end, whether you like what Wikileaks has been doing lately or not, your freedom and mine hangs direly on defending its right to do it. Powerful people have been embarrassed, and have claimed the right and necessity to 'do something about it' -- yet curiously they have not even attempted to deny that what has been said is in fact the truth. Indeed, their most solid defense so far has been to claim that what Wikileaks does "isn't journalism", because it only provides access to the raw, unadulterated, unspun truth. It's a pretty sick state of affairs when the wealthy and powerful can try to convince the masses that an organization should be crushed for committing the crime of telling the truth about them -- and be taken seriously.
All has changed utterly and a terrible stupidity has been born
We all know that Google is huge and there are more than enough examples of people crying the end is nigh regarding the seemingly insurmountable rise of the one-time search engine. But are they really that big? Do they have that much of a hold over us and should we be worried?
One of the most controversial freedoms of free software is the right to simply take the code and go make your own competing project -- what is popularly called a "fork". It's controversial because it seems like a betrayal of the original developer; because it distributes resources into competing groups, which may waste effort; and because it may create confusion in the marketplace of ideas that is free software distribution. But it is a critical freedom to have, and the recent fork of LibreOffice from OpenOffice.org, like the fork of X.org from Xfree86 years ago, shows why it's so important.
If you haven't heard, Google have announced they are pulling the plug on Wave, their interactive, real-time communication product. It's a shame but I can understand why. It never really took off. Google have blamed lack of user adoption for the poor showing, and maybe that's true, but in the end if people aren't using your product: it's not their fault - it's yours.
What exactly does it mean when Richard Stallman says that the Creative Commons' Attribution-ShareAlike license has a "Weak Copyleft"? Why exactly is it that "Freeware" and "Non-Free Software" mean the same thing, while "Free Software" is something else entirely? And what is this business with "Free Beer", and where can I get some? If you've asked yourself these questions, this column is for you.
Most people with an interest in software freedom will turn to GNU/Linux as their operating system of choice. Few realize however, that the vast majority of GNU/Linux distros are not entirely free. Imagine migrating away from Windows, only to find that by installing GNU/Linux you are accepting a restrictive Microsoft license!
Many distros promote the use of proprietary software, knowingly show incorrect licenses, and attempt to hide the problem under the guise of an 'option of freedom'. When the majority of developers of a collection of software don't care about freedom, neither will their users. Non-free distros make almost no attempts to inform their userbases of the importance of freedom, even though they wouldn't exist without it. I will discuss how the option of freedom is an unacceptable solution, and propose some real fixes.
In my opinion, choosing between proprietary and free licensing is actually choosing between short term and long term goals. If one needs something that works in a business meeting in an hour and if her/his expertise with free licensed products is slim then one is likely to choose what s/he knows "it works" and that includes proprietary software.
For someone to truly switch to "free as in freedom" software they need to set long term goals for it. Let me expand this idea a little bit.
In a recent article, Ryan Cartwright argued that free software isn't playing the "same game" as proprietary software is. He's right—but that begs the question: what game is GNU/Linux playing?
Thirty years of proprietary software thinking have conditioned us to think that marketshare is a critical measure of success, and so we've convinced ourselves that we have to "win" against Windows in order to "succeed". But this is simply not true. GNU/Linux can be a very great success even if it never achieves more than 1% of the installations in the world. The reason is the difference between "power" and "freedom".
Latest from the Bizarre Cathedral
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?
For many years, there has been a growing concern about the emergence of a "digital divide" between rich and poor. The idea is that people who don't meet a certain threshold income won't be able to afford the investment in computers and internet connectivity that makes further learning and development possible. They'll become trapped by their circumstances.
Under proprietary commercial operating systems, which impose a kind of plateau on the cost of computer systems, this may well be true. But GNU/Linux, continuously improving hardware, and a community commitment to bringing technology down to cost instead of just up to spec, has led to a new wave of ultra-low-cost computers, starting with the One Laptop Per Child's XO. These free-software-based computers will be the first introduction to computing for millions of new users, and that foretells a much freer future.
There’s a discussion going on on my LUG mailing list today which seems to have diverged from its original topic to the question of the inclusion of officially supported non-free repositories in distributions: is this merely facilitating freedom or does it have more sinister implications for free software?
I read David Jonathon's article Anybody Up To Writing Good Directory Software? the other day, which got me thinking about software directories in general. As David mentioned, many of the software directories one finds when doing a quick google search are free as in beer, not as in freedom. But what interests me is the software directories that already exist, providing a combination of both free as in beer software, and open source software. Sites such as Freeware Downloads and Shareware Download don't advertise themselves as providing free as in liberty software, but each of them have a good selection of open source software available... if you know where to look.
My Windows XP machine went "phut" the other day. I think it isa hardware problem as it had been "phutting" more and more over the pastmonths, but now it is unusable. This is not the disaster it mayappear to be!
My last two blogs dealt with issues that illustrate to me that some people have a functional disconnect with the philosophy, and spirit, of what I feel is really what the Free Software movement should be about. For many "freedom" seems merely to be mostly a slogan, not a guiding principle to consistently adhere to, and a reality to produce. Here's what I think many people are missing.
I recently started a new podcast where people like you and me have the chance to put questions to key people in our community. While doing that I discovered some aspects of our community that I feel are often over looked in the drive to find new users.
Why I did it
As the New Year swiftly approaches, it’s time to write those resolutions. From exercising more, eating fewer snacks, or remembering to call your mother on her birthday, we all think of various ways we can improve our lives, by starting good habits or ending bad ones. I’d like to suggest some resolutions that will assist you in your pursuit of free software.