Is free software really capable of serving end users or not? This issue has political consequences, which is part of what makes it important: either free software is "minor league" or it's "major league". Which we believe has a big impact on what our expectations can be and what our political and ethical stance towards proprietary and free software should be.
Information in the computer age is the last genuine free market left on earth except those free markets where indigenous people are still surviving (Russell Means)
Some of the surviving nations in North America have tried Casinos and call centers. Others have tried meat packing for freedom. Yet, unemployment remains high, over 80% for some communities, such as on the Lakotah reservations. Similarly, per capita income often remains below the poverty line. On the Lakotah reservations, per capita income is less than $4,000 annually. The exact story is of course different for each nation, but the overall results of these efforts have usually been rather bleak.
Could free software change things?
Recently, I had to fact-check some older articles I wrote about One Laptop Per Child in order to bring them up to date. This meant digging through the controversy in 2008, and what I found was some pretty appalling human behavior. That's the "bitter". The "sweet" is that both OLPC and Sugar (now separate projects) are both doing a lot of good in the world. Sugar, in particular, is doing a better job of connecting with the community. That's a challenge for us in the community to step up and do a much better job connecting with Sugar. We need to make it the best thing ever, and that's going to mean more than lip service. So we all need to get it installed and start contributing.
Since free software and other free culture products are formed by an organic, incrementalist process, they tend to be highly organic in their design as well. Free software is not so much built as it is grown. Thus, when considering a new project, you must think not about how to break it down into implementable chunks that can be assembled into a working product, but rather about how the project can organically grow—moving from working product to working product as it does so—becoming progressively more useful as it is developed.
A constant pattern in the corporate environment is the gathering of resources, but with the free exchange of information inherent in commons-based projects, the pattern of choice is the dispersal of resources. This presents certain design challenges, which manifest themselves in the Unix-style "small sharp tools" approach to specialization; encourage "bottom-up design"; and most importantly require easy-to-obtain, shared, free standards for data interchange between programs. When every train car is to be made by a separate builder, it is essential that the rail gauge is constant and known.
This post is in response to Dario Borghino's story, "Why Open Source is not Free Software". Go read that first...
I have a couple problems with this post. First of all, there is much less difference between free and open source software than this post suggest. Secondly, patents do not have much effect on the software industry, in practice. Those may sound controversial, but let me explain.
Choosing to release a piece of software under the terms of a free software license is an important step through which many programmers and writers first approach the free software community. However, the myriad of licenses available can sometimes confuse and disorient the user, sometimes making this first step much harder than it should be. Let's try and make things clearer.
So here we are, entering another year -- and no doubt at some point during this year, more than one person will declare it the "year of the Linux desktop". Of course it won't happen and those who consider themselves free software opponents will soon let us know. Some things will never change. That said, is there any reason to suspect it might be different this year? Is it possible that the current economic climate is better placed to generate a significant growth in free desktops? Can the cloud of economic gloom have a silver lining for free software?
Some of us will find some kind of alleged spare time on our hands over the next few weeks. Certainly, there's often some kind of break from "work" over the festive season. Traditionally free software developers have used such times for long coding sessions, get-togethers and "hack-fests". Of course we're not all hard-core (or even soft-core) hackers so here's a few suggestions for the rest of us who might want to try something new over Christmas.
Free software advocacy is something I do -- both for a living and as a hobby. Over the years I've gleaned a few best practice tips and I thought I'd pass them on. They may not all work or even be applicable in your case, but I have found then all useful at some time or other. They are in no particular order and in my opinion carry equal amounts of weight.
The "edge" for free software over proprietary software comes from volunteer effort. You should spend just as much effort on designing a comfortable and inviting project as you would on any consumer establishment: you may not be trying to convince customers to part with cash for your product, but you are asking volunteers to part with their time for your project (which is not any easier).
Not long ago I watched a free software developer totally lose his cool with a user who (admittedly very frustratingly) posted a "bug report" in Spanish on an English-language project that amounted to "it doesn't work". He posted a very sarcastic reply in a couple of random languages (one of them through a machine translator). It was an understandable reaction, and in a way, kind of funny if you could understand all of the languages involved, but it wasn't exactly good public relations. It was a sure sign of burnout. He had forgotten one important point: you are not obligated to help just because you wrote the thing.
The world of computers has changed. Sub-notebooks are becoming immensely popular, mobile phones based on Google's Android software are about to come out (T-Mobile have just announced their G1 will launch on October 22), and computers are looking increasingly like small devices that fit in our pockets. The end of 2008 might see the dawn of a new revolution in the computer industry and in people's lives. Maybe 2009 will be remembered as the year when the "world went mobile". What does this mean for the (free and non-free) software industry? Where will we be, technologically and (more importantly) culturally? Where will the market (and the money) be?
In my last article I talked about how interest leads people to program. Then life rose up behind me like a giant Doberman pincer and bit me on my backside; so, I didn't think of programming for over four months. However, just this week something happened that made me want to program again.
I was preparing to teach some students how to use dichotomous keys to identify organisms. Suddenly, while I was staring at a simple teaching key for identifying fruit, my eyes glazed over and I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I was looking at the basis of a very simple program.
The gender inequality among developers and supporters of free software is stunning. Less than 2% of us are women, according to studies conducted for the European Commission. Why? The evidence says we're driving them away. There are even some pretty good published guidelines on how not to drive them away. What's missing is a practical implementation strategy: here I present ten relatively simple changes in how you run your project, to make it more attractive to would-be contributors—especially women.
I was surprised and delighted to find this video presentation by one of my favorite performers, Stephen Fry, called "Happy Birthday to GNU", on the GNU project homepage.
Posted on September 1st, in honor of GNU's 25th anniversary, it turns out to be only the latest in a series of entries on Mr. Fry's official blog site praising the virtues of free software.
Today I want to talk about free and open source software in connection with the
us feeling that I believe is widely felt all over the world.
Initially you might think that these two topics have nothing to do with each other but hopefully by the end of this post you will understand that these two topics are actually connected in many complex ways.
Most of the assumptions on which our present economic system is based are based on nothing much better than "conventional wisdom": which is a fancy way of saying "it just sounds plausible". Sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong, and that's what the first part of this book has been about: six things that ought to be impossible if conventional wisdom were correct. But if the foundational assumptions of our economy are false, then where does that leave the economy? And if it's no longer standing on a firm foundation, then what are the new rules?
Garry Saddington is ICT co-ordinator at Skegness Grammar School. It is a specialist sports college and a specialist maths and computing college with nearly 800 pupils, and has a boarding provision for around 60. Alistair Crust is responsible for serving the technology needs of the Skegness Grammar School community. All the school's 180 curriculum computers run GNU/Linux. These run as thin-clients using the Linux Terminal Server Project, which uses low power clients with most of the processing being done on fewer, more powerful, servers.